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Judge: fundamental error rule doesn't apply to civil cases

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An Indiana Court of Appeals judge disagreed with the decision of his fellow panel members to allow a man committed to a psychiatric unit to argue the trial court committed fundamental error by not issuing an order scheduling a hearing within three days of receiving the petition for involuntary commitment.

M.E., a military veteran who suffers from chronic illness and has a history of involuntary commitments, displayed behaviors that led to his admittance to the inpatient psychiatric unit of the VA Medical Center in Indianapolis. Six days later, a petition was filed to involuntarily commit him for at least 90 days; seven days later, the trial court appointed counsel for M.E. and set a hearing on the petition for the following week. M.E. was ordered to be committed at the hearing.

M.E. didn’t object at trial on any of the bases he asserted as error on appeal, so the majority reviewed his appeal to determine if M.E. established the trial court committed fundamental error. M.E. argued his rights were violated by the trial court when it didn’t issue an order scheduling a hearing within three days of its receipt of the petition to involuntarily commitment him and by not making a timely determination that M.E.’s prehearing detention was supported by probable cause.

Judges Paul Mathias and Terry Crone ruled M.E. did not establish fundamental error and upheld the trial court’s order of regular commitment in In the Matter of Commitment of M.E. v. V.A. Medical Center, No. 49A04-1102-MH-63.

Judge L. Mark Bailey concurred in result, but disagreed with the majority’s decision to allow M.E. to argue fundamental error so as to avoid procedural default.

“I acknowledge that a civil commitment is a significant deprivation of liberty and that this Court has, in the past, entertained an appellant’s argument that a civil commitment is analogous to a criminal trial,” he wrote. “I, however, do not feel at liberty to take the approach of applying the fundamental error rule to civil judgments.”

Bailey pointed out that the Indiana Supreme Court has not embraced the idea and he disagrees with undertaking a fundamental error analysis where waiver would suffice.
 

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