Civil commitment is the forced admittance into a treatment facility by a court order.  The goal of civil commitment is to protect the general public and a patient from themselves.  Because a patient of a civil commitment is deprived of their personal liberty, each state has its own statutes that proscribe civil commitment procedures to avoid violating a patient’s due process rights.

Who can be Civilly Committed?

Individuals who are eligible for civil commitment are described by statutes, and are generally:

  • Physically or mentally ill,
  • Physically or mentally incompetent,
  • Addicted to drugs, or
  • Sexually violent predators.

How Do Civil Commitments Work?

Each state’s civil commitment statute is different, but they generally follow a similar time-line:

  • An individual commits a crime or is brought before a court in some way,
  • The individual’s condition becomes an issue,
  • The facts of the case are submitted to a county attorney,
  • The county attorney arranges for a pre-commitment screening by a professional such as a psychologist,
  • The court hears arguments from both sides regarding the civil commitment, and finally
  • The court decides to force the individual into a treatment facility through civil commitment.

Most states also allow for a temporary or emergency confinement of an individual who is believed to be a candidate for civil commitment.  The allowable time is usually restricted to 24 or 48 hours.

What is the Difference Between Civil Commitment and Criminal Punishment?

Civil commitments may seem much like criminal punishments, but they differ in three main ways:

  1. The goal of civil commitment is to treat and rehabilitate a patient, not punish them for violating a crime,
  2. Civil commitments are generally for an indefinite period of time, while criminal punishments usually have a set time limit, and
  3. Arguing against civil commitment takes proof of clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, where criminal punishment usually only requires a preponderance of the evidence.

Do I Need an Attorney for a Civil Commitment?

If you or someone you know is involved in, or will soon become involved in a civil commitment proceeding, it is highly recommended for you to contact a criminal defense attorney because of the severe consequences that are at stake.  Only an attorney will be able to fully explain the issues and help in your defense.