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.
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.
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.
Civil commitments may seem much like criminal punishments, but they differ in three main ways:
- The goal of civil commitment is to treat and rehabilitate a patient, not punish them for violating a crime,
- Civil commitments are generally for an indefinite period of time, while criminal punishments usually have a set time limit, and
- 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.
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.