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Justices to review who can waive rights of mentally ill

November 14, 2017

The Indiana Supreme Court will decide whether trial courts have authority to waive respondents’ rights to be present at their mental health commitment hearings after granting transfer to a case in which a man was not present for his commitment hearing.

The high court unanimously granted transfer to the case of Commitment of A.A., 49S02-1711-MH-688 last week. In that case, the Marion Superior Court ordered A.A.’s regular commitment to Eskenazi Health’s Midtown Community Mental Health Clinic even though he was not present at the commitment hearing. The judge issued the order after A.A.’s counsel said A.A. was “agitated” and did not answer the phone to discuss the hearing, so his presence was waived.

During oral arguments before the Indiana Court of Appeals in late June, counsel for Eskenazi urged the court to provide guidance on how attorneys should proceed in such cases. In issuing such guidance in July, the appellate panel determined respondents being involuntarily detained in a psychiatric facility cannot voluntarily waive their right to be present at their civil commitment hearing, and A.A.’s counsel erred in waiving his client’s right.

However, the court went on to find that trial courts are statutorily given the authority to waive that right if the respondent’s presence would be “injurious to the individual’s mental health or well-being.” Based on that standard, A.A.’s commitment was upheld.

The justices also granted transfer to the case of Paul Gresk, et al., v. Cortney Demetris, M.D., 49S02-1711-MI-686. The Court of Appeals ruled on an issue of first impression in that case that Demetris who reported medical child abuse to the Department of Child Services was not protected by the state’s anti-ALAPP statute. Thus, the appellate court remanded a medical malpractice complaint against Demetris back to the trial court in July.

Finally, the high court granted transfer to Kristopher L. Weida v. State of Indiana, 79S02-1711-CR-687, in which a divided Court of Appeals upheld Weida’s three-year advisory sentence and the probation conditions imposed after he was convicted of incest with his teenage niece. Though Judge John Baker concurred with the majority as to Weida’s sentence, he dissented on the probation condition that required Weida to get permission before accessing the internet. Baker wrote in an August opinion that such a condition is “unduly intrusive and unnecessarily restrictive.”

Oral arguments have not yet been scheduled in any of these cases.

The Supreme Court denied transfer to 19 other cases last week. The full list of transfer actions can be read here.

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