Challenging an Involuntary Mental Health Commitment

By Robert Sakovich, Esq.

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Under the Mental Health Procedures Act, a physician in Pennsylvania can direct involuntary emergency mental health treatment for any person he or she believes to be “severely mentally disabled and in need of immediate treatment.” The records of this treatment will remain for a lifetime unless they are successfully challenged by the committed individual in court. These records, based on the opinion of one physician, can impact a person’s employment prospects and most basic rights for the rest of his or her life. For example, a person who is subject to an involuntary mental health commitment is forever barred from possessing a firearm.

I often find that people who have been subjected to an involuntary mental health commitment in Pennsylvania are shocked by how easily a physician can decide to commit an individual. Commitments are intended to provide protection, observation, and help for individuals who have been shown to present a “clear and present danger” to themselves or others, but no “proof” of that fact is necessary for a commitment to occur. The physician does not need to know that grounds for commitment actually exist: A physician may rely on the word of another person who claims that the committed party has threatened to harm himself or others and has done something to act on that threat.

For public safety, the benefit of the doubt is given to the physician. He or she is allowed to rely on information that they heard from another source and which might not be admissible in a court of law, as long as the information indicates conduct that would be committable conduct under the Mental Health Procedures Act. This, of course, makes challenging a commitment a difficult task. But it is possible!

Illegal commitments can be challenged and the records expunged through the filing of a petition with the Court of Common Pleas. If the petition to expunge is granted, the involuntary commitment record is expunged and the petitioner’s rights, including the right to bear arms are restored. The sooner this process is started, the better.

Also, everyone has a right under the Mental Health Procedures Act to communicate immediately with others, such as friends, family or their lawyer, by phone upon arrival at a facility for involuntary mental health treatment.

You do not have to go through this alone. If you believe your commitment is improper, the team of mental health law attorneys at Scaringi Law 717 775 7195 are prepared to challenge and hopefully expunge your commitment. Call now for a consultation!

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