Judges uphold involuntary commitment

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When a defendant has been previously committed to a state institution because he was found incompetent to stand trial, that state institution may be considered a community mental health center for purposes of a report required under Indiana Code 12-26-7-3(b), the Indiana Court of Appeals held Monday.

A.J. challenged his commitment to Logansport State Hospital after he was initially committed because of incompetency to stand trial. A.J. had many health issues, including deafness and partial blindness, hypothyroidism, and an IQ of 65. He was on probation for a criminal confinement conviction when he was charged with two counts of child molesting. The trial court ordered him evaluated, and the two psychiatrists found it unlikely A.J. would ever be restored to competence to stand trial.

A.J. was ordered committed to Logansport State Hospital. Hospital staff later petitioned for A.J. to remain at Logansport, alleging he suffered from a psychiatric disorder, a developmental disability, and that he was gravely disabled. The trial court granted the petition for involuntary commitment, finding him to be dangerous.

In A.J. v. Logansport State Hospital, No. 66A05-1012-MH-805, A.J. claimed that Logansport didn’t follow the requirements of I.C. 12-26-7-3, which says a commitment petition proceedings record must include a report from a community mental health center. A.J.’s petition includes a report from Logansport, which he claims is a state institution and not a CMHC.

After examining the definitions of state institution and CMHC, the Court of Appeals concluded that in this case, a state institution may be considered a CMHC for purposes of providing the report. The judges also concluded that there is sufficient evidence to support the finding that A.J. is dangerous.

The appellate court also held that in determining whether regular commitment to a state institution is appropriate for a patient against whom criminal charges are pending, the trial court’s mere consideration of the state’s interest in restoring competency doesn’t per se violate the patient’s due process rights. But, the state’s interest in providing restoration services must also be legitimate, wrote Judge Terry Crone.

A.J. can’t be held perpetually at Logansport solely for competency rehabilitation services if he isn’t expected to attain competency in the foreseeable future, wrote the judge. The judges affirmed his commitment, and noted that trial court must review his care and treatment at least on an annual basis.

Judge L. Mark Bailey concurred in a separate opinion, to express concerns he has written about in a past decision regarding the adequacy of current criminal justice procedures to resolve issues presented by defendants with chronic mental illness.

“Assuming that A.J. ever attains competency, the resolution of the pending criminal charges will likely turn on whether, at the time of the alleged acts of molestation, A.J.’s mental disease was such that he cannot be held criminally responsible for his actions. This is where defendants like A.J. fall into Indiana’s twin ‘black holes’ of incompetency to assist defense counsel and competency restoration services,” he wrote. “There are no simple answers in the treatment of chronic mental illness, whether in a criminal or civil context, but A.J.’s case is an example of an area where the law must do better.”


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