Baker Act – Martha Lenderman, M.S.W.

Martha Lenderman, M.S.W., discusses Florida’s Baker Act. Lenderman is the former president of the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas, Inc. Lenderman was key in reforming the Baker Act in 1996 and drafted the Florida Administrative Rules governing the Baker Act.



Jackson v. Indiana, 406 U.S. 715 (1972)


1. By subjecting petitioner to a more lenient commitment standard and to a more stringent standard of release than those generally applicable to all other persons not charged with offenses, thus condemning petitioner to permanent institutionalization without the showing required for commitment or the opportunity for release afforded by ordinary civil commitment procedures, Indiana deprived petitioner of equal protection. Cf. Baxstrom v. Herold, 383 U. S. 107. Pp. 406 U. S. 723-731.

2. Indiana’s indefinite commitment of a criminal defendant solely on account of his lack of capacity to stand trial violates due process. Such a defendant cannot be held more than the reasonable period of time necessary to determine whether there is a substantial probability that he will attain competency in the foreseeable future. If it is determined that he will not, the State must either institute civil proceedings applicable to indefinite commitment of those not charged with crime or release the defendant. Greenwood v. United States, 350 U. S. 366, distinguished. Pp. 406 U. S. 731-739.

O’Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563 (1975)

Held: A State cannot constitutionally confine, without more, a nondangerous individual who is capable of surviving safely in freedom by himself or with the help of willing and responsible family members or friends, and since the jury found, upon ample evidence, that petitioner did so confine respondent, it properly concluded that petitioner had violated respondent’s right to liberty. Pp. 422 U. S. 573-576.

Addington v. Texas, 441 U.S. 418 (1979)

Held: A “clear and convincing” standard of proof is required by the Fourteenth Amendment in a civil proceeding brought under state law to commit an individual involuntarily for an indefinite period to a state mental hospital. Pp. 441 U. S. 425-433.

(a) The individual’s liberty interest in the outcome of a civil commitment proceeding is of such weight and gravity, compared with the state’s interests in providing care to its citizens who are unable, because of emotional disorders, to care for themselves and in protecting the community from the dangerous tendencies of some who are mentally ill, that due process requires the state to justify confinement by proof more substantial than a mere preponderance of the evidence. Pp. 441 U. S. 425-427.

(b) Due process does not require states to use the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof applicable in criminal prosecutions and delinquency proceedings. In re Winship, 397 U. S. 358, distinguished. The reasonable doubt standard is inappropriate in civil commitment proceedings because, given the uncertainties of psychiatric diagnosis, it may impose a burden the state cannot meet, and thereby erect an unreasonable barrier to needed medical treatment. The state should not be required to employ a standard of proof that may completely undercut its efforts to further the legitimate interests of both the state and the patient that are served by civil commitments. Pp. 441 U. S. 427-431.

(c) To meet due process demands in commitment, proceedings, the standard of proof has to inform the factfinder that the proof must be greater than the “preponderance of the evidence” standard applicable to other categories of civil cases. However, use of the term “unequivocal” in conjunction with the terms “clear and convincing” in jury instructions (as included in the instructions given by the Texas state court in this case) is not constitutionally required, although states are free to use that standard. Pp. 441 U. S. 431-433.

Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307 (1982)

Held: Respondent has constitutionally protected liberty interests under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to reasonably safe conditions of confinement, freedom from unreasonable bodily restraints, and such minimally adequate training as reasonably may be required by these interests. Whether respondent’s constitutional rights have been violated must be determined by balancing these liberty interests against the relevant state interests. The proper standard for determining whether the State has adequately protected such rights is whether professional judgment, in fact, was exercised. And in determining what is “reasonable,” courts must show deference to the judgment exercised by a qualified professional, whose decision is presumptively valid. Pp. 457 U. S. 314-325.

Rennie v. Klein, 720 F.2d 266 (3d Cir. 1983), cert. granted 483 U.S. 1119 (1982)

The Third Circuit held that involuntarily committed mentally ill patients have the constitutional right to refuse anti-psychotic drugs.

Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999)

Under the American with Disabilities Act, states must place individuals with mental disabilities in community settings, rather than in psychiatrist institutions, if treatment professionals have determined that: (1) community placement is appropriate; (2) the individual is not opposed to a less restrictive setting; and (3) the placement can be reasonably accommodated.


Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113 (1990)

Held: Burch’s complaint was sufficient to state a claim under § 1983 for violation of his procedural due process rights. While Parratt and Hudson apply to deprivations of liberty, they do not preclude Burch’s claim, because predeprivation procedural safeguards might have been of value in preventing the alleged deprivation of Burch’s liberty without either valid consent or an involuntary placement hearing. Such a deprivation is not unpredictable. It is foreseeable that persons requesting treatment might be incapable of informed consent, and that state officials with the power to admit patients might take their apparent willing ness to be admitted at face value. And the deprivation will occur, if at all, at a predictable point in the admissions process — when a patient is given admission forms to sign. Nor was predeprivation process impossible here. Florida has a procedure for involuntary placement, but only the hospital staff is in a position to take notice of any misuse of the voluntary admission process and to ensure that the proper procedures are afforded both to those patients who are unwilling and to those who are unable to give consent. In addition, petitioners’ conduct was not “unauthorized” within the meaning of Parratt and Hudson, since the State had delegated to them the power and authority to deprive mental patients of their liberty and the concomitant duty to initiate the procedural safeguards set up by state law to guard against unlawful confinement. Pp. 494 U. S. 124-139.

Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 346 (1997)


1. The Act’s definition of “mental abnormality” satisfies “substantive” due process requirements. An individual’s constitutionally protected liberty interest in avoiding physical restraint may be overridden even in the civil context. Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U. S. 11, 26. This Court has consistently upheld involuntary commitment statutes that detain people who are unable to control their behavior and thereby pose a danger to the public health and safety, provided the confinement takes place pursuant to proper procedures and evidentiary standards. Foucha v. Louisiana, 504 U. S. 71,80. The Act unambiguously requires a pre commitment finding of dangerousness either to oneself or to others, and links that finding to a determination that the person suffers from a “mental abnormality” or “personality disorder.” Generally, this Court has sustained a commitment statute if it couples proof of dangerousness with proof of some additional factor, such as a “mental illness” or “mental abnormality,” see, e. g., Heller v. Doe, 509 U. S. 312, 314-315, for these additional requirements serve to limit confinement to those who suffer from a volitional impairment rendering them dangerous beyond their control. The Act sets forth comparable criteria with its pre commitment requirement of “mental abnormality” or “personality disorder.” Contrary to Hendricks’ argument, this Court has never required States to adopt any particular nomenclature in drafting civil commitment statutes and leaves to the States the task of defining terms of a medical nature that have legal significance. Cf. Jones v. United States, 463 U. S. 354, 365, n. 13. The legislature is therefore not required to use the specific term “mental illness” and is free to adopt any similar term. Pp. 356-360.

2. The Act does not violate the Constitution’s double jeopardy prohibition or its ban on ex post facto lawmaking. pp. 360-371.

(a) The Act does not establish criminal proceedings, and involuntary confinement under it is not punishment. The categorization of a particular proceeding as civil or criminal is a question of statutory construction. Allen v. Illinois, 478 U. S. 364, 368. Nothing on the face of the Act suggests that the Kansas Legislature sought to create anything other than a civil commitment scheme. That manifest intent will be rejected only if Hendricks provides the clearest proof that the scheme is so punitive in purpose or effect as to negate Kansas’ intention to deem it civil. United States v. Ward, 448 U. S. 242, 248-249. He has failed to satisfy this heavy burden. Commitment under the Act does not implicate either of the two primary objectives of criminal punishment: retribution or deterrence. Its purpose is not retributive: It does not affix culpability for prior criminal conduct but uses such conduct solely for evidentiary purposes; it does not make criminal conviction a prerequisite for commitment; and it lacks a scienter requirement, an important element in distinguishing criminal and civil statutes. Nor can the Act be said to act as a deterrent, since persons with a mental abnormality or personality disorder are unlikely to be deterred by the threat of confinement. The conditions surrounding confinement-essentially the same as conditions for any civilly committed patient-do not suggest a punitive purpose. Although the commitment scheme here involves an affirmative restraint, such restraint of the dangerously mentally ill has been historically regarded as a legitimate nonpunitive objective. Cf. United States v. Salerno, 481 U. S. 739, 747. The confinement’s potentially indefinite duration is linked, not to any punitive objective, but to the purpose of holding a person until his mental abnormality no longer causes him to be a threat to others. He is thus permitted immediate release upon a showing that he is no longer dangerous, and the longest he can be detained pursuant to a single judicial proceeding is one year. The State’s use of procedural safeguards applicable in criminal trials does not itself turn the proceedings into criminal prosecutions. Allen, supra, at 372. Finally, the Act is not necessarily punitive if it fails to offer treatment where treatment for a condition is not possible, or if treatment, though possible, is merely an ancillary, rather than an overriding, state concern. The conclusion that the Act is nonpunitive removes an essential prerequisite for both Hendricks’ double jeopardy and ex post facto claims. Pp. 360-369.

(b) Hendricks’ confinement does not amount to a second prosecution and punishment for the offense for which he was convicted. Because the Act is civil in nature, its commitment proceedings do not constitute a second prosecution. Cf. Jones, supra. As this commitment is not tantamount to punishment, the detention does not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause, even though it follows a prison term. Baxstrom v. Herold, 383 U. S. 107. Hendricks’ argument that, even if the Act survives the “multiple punishments” test, it fails the “same elements” test of Blockburger v. United States, 284 U. S. 299, is rejected, since that test does not apply outside of the successive prosecution context. Pp. 369-370.

(c) Hendricks’ ex post facto claim is similarly flawed. The Ex Post Facto Clause pertains exclusively to penal statutes. California Dept. of Corrections v. Morales, 514 U. S. 499, 505. Since the Act is not punishment, its application does not raise ex post facto concerns. Moreover, the Act clearly does not have retroactive effect. It does not criminalize conduct legal before its enactment or deprive Hendricks of any defense that was available to him at the time of his crimes. Pp.370-371.

Sell v. United States, 539 U.S.166 (2003)


1. The Eighth Circuit had jurisdiction to hear the appeal. The District Court’s pretrial order was an appealable “collateral order” within the exceptions to the rule that only final judgments are appealable. The order conclusively determines the disputed question whether Sell has a legal right to avoid forced medication. Coopers & Lybrand v. Livesay, 437 U. S. 463, 468. It also resolves an important issue, for involuntary medical treatment raises questions of clear constitutional importance. Ibid. And the issue is effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment, ibid., since, by the time of trial, Sell will have undergone forced medication-the very harm that he seeks to avoid, and which cannot be undone by an acquittal. Pp.175-177.

2. Under the framework of Washington v. Harper, 494 U. S. 210, and Riggins v. Nevada, 504 U. S. 127, the Constitution permits the Government involuntarily to administer antipsychotic drugs to render a mentally ill defendant competent to stand trial on serious criminal charges if the treatment is medically appropriate, is substantially unlikely to have side effects that may undermine the trial’s fairness, and, taking account of less intrusive alternatives, is necessary significantly to further important governmental trial-related interests. Pp. 177-183.

(a) This standard will permit forced medication solely for trial competence purposes in certain instances. But these instances may be rare, because the standard says or fairly implies the following: First, a court must find that important governmental interests are at stake. The Government’s interest in bringing to trial an individual accused of a serious crime is important. However, courts must consider each case’s facts in evaluating this interest because special circumstances may lessen its importance, e. g., a defendant’s refusal to take drugs may mean lengthy confinement in an institution, which would diminish the risks of freeing without punishment one who has committed a serious crime. In addition to its substantial interest in timely prosecution, the Government has a concomitant interest in assuring a defendant a fair trial. Second, the court must conclude that forced medication will significantly further those concomitant state interests. It must find that medication is substantially likely to render the defendant competent to stand trial and substantially unlikely to have side effects that will interfere significantly with the defendant’s ability to assist counsel in conducting a defense. Third, the court must conclude that involuntary medication is necessary to further those interests and find that alternative, less intrusive treatments are unlikely to achieve substantially the same results. Fourth, the court must conclude that administering the drugs is medically appropriate. Pp.177-181.

(b) The court applying these standards is trying to determine whether forced medication is necessary to further the Government’s interest in rendering the defendant competent to stand trial. If a court authorizes medication on an alternative ground, such as dangerousness, the need to consider authorization on trial competence grounds will likely disappear. There are often strong reasons for a court to consider alternative grounds first. For one thing, the inquiry into whether medication is permissible to render an individual nondangerous is usually more objective and manageable than the inquiry into whether medication is permissible to render a defendant competent. For another, courts typically address involuntary medical treatment as a civil matter. If a court decides that medication cannot be authorized on alternative grounds, its findings will help to inform expert opinion and judicial decision making in respect to a request to administer drugs for trial competence purposes. Pp. 181-183.

3. The Eighth Circuit erred in approving forced medication solely to render Sell competent to stand trial. Because that court and the District Court held the Magistrate’s dangerousness finding clearly erroneous, this Court assumes that Sell was not dangerous. And on that hypothetical assumption, the Eighth Circuit erred in reaching its conclusion. For one thing, the Magistrate did not find forced medication legally justified on trial competence grounds alone. Moreover, the experts at the Magistrate’s hearing focused mainly on dangerousness. The failure to focus on trial competence could well have mattered, for this Court cannot tell whether the medication’s side effects were likely to undermine the fairness of Sell’s trial, a question not necessarily relevant when dangerousness is primarily at issue. Finally, the lower courts did not consider that Sell has been confined at the Medical Center for a long time, and that his refusal to be medicated might result in further lengthy confinement. Those factors, the first because a defendant may receive credit toward a sentence for time served and the second because it reduces the likelihood of the defendant’s committing future crimes, moderate the importance of the governmental interest in prosecution. The Government may pursue its forced medication request on the grounds discussed in this Court’s opinion but should do so based on current circumstances, since Sell’s condition may have changed over time. Pp. 183-186.


Involuntary Civil Commitment: A Solution to the Opioid Crisis?

Candice T. Player, Involuntary Civil Commitment: A Solution to the Opioid Crisis?, 71 Rutgers U. L. Rev. 589 (2019).

Abstract: The United States is in the grip of a deadly opioid crisis, fueled by prescription opioids and the appearance of fentanyl in the drug supply. Despite the anguish that people with drug addictions experience, most people who are addicted to drugs do not seek treatment voluntarily. To that end, families are urging legislators to expand access to involuntary civil commitment, as a tool to combat the opioid crisis.

While courts have broad authority to confine people with substance use disorders, and doing so might be associated with positive outcomes, including reductions in drug use, using civil commitment to force people with substance use disorders into treatment despite their objections presents an ethical dilemma. States have the parens patraie authority to care for people who are unable to care for themselves, but in their current form, most civil commitment statutes reach people with substance use disorders who are competent to make treatment decisions. There is a place for civil commitment, but without a judicial determination of incompetence, using civil commitment to confine drug users is a dangerous exercise of the parens patriae power.