Mental-health facility report not same as charging instrument

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The due process protections applicable to a charging instrument in a criminal case aren’t applicable to a report filed after someone is detained in a mental-health facility, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

In Commitment of A.L., No. 49A02-1001-MH-76, A.L., whom the appellate court noted may have already been released from detention, challenged the trial court’s order of temporary commitment. She argued the trial court committed fundamental error by letting Wishard Health Services, Midtown Health Center state one ground for involuntary commitment in a pre-hearing report following emergency detention and then state an additional ground for commitment at her final hearing. She also claimed the order wasn’t supported by clear and convincing evidence.

A.L. was taken to Wishard from the Statehouse after asking officials to help her get access to “child papers and wills” in Monticello, Ind. She was admitted based on emergency detention. She was later committed after a hearing for a period of no more than 90 days.

Wishard cited severe disability as the reason for involuntary commitment in the physician’s report but then also listed dangerousness at her hearing. A.L. believed that Wishard had to give her pre-hearing notice of every ground that supported its request for temporary involuntary commitment. She didn’t object to the “dangerous” claim at the hearing, but she claims it was a fundamental error that the court can review on appeal.

A.L. compared the report to a charging instrument in a criminal case and claimed there was a “fatal or material variance” between the report and the evidence presented at trial. But the judges rejected her argument because she cited no authority to support her position and because the charging instrument serves a different purpose than the report filed in the instant case.

The charging instrument gives a defendant notice of the crime she’s charged with so she can prepare a defense; the report is to inform the trial court that a mental-health facility has examined the detainee and whether she is mentally ill and either dangerous or gravely disabled and requires continuing care, wrote Senior Judge Betty Barteau. In addition, A.L. was represented by counsel at her hearing.

“After considering these factors, we conclude that any error in the trial court’s admission of evidence or consideration of Wishard’s argument as to A.L.’s dangerousness was not a blatant violation of our concepts of fundamental fairness and did not cause substantial and apparent harm to A.L.,” she wrote.

Even if they didn’t consider whether A.L. was dangerous, the appellate judges also found sufficient evidence to support the order because Wishard proved by clear and convincing evidence that she was gravely disabled.


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