New Court Decision Allows The Expungement Of A Prior 303 Involuntary Commitment

New Court Decision Allows The Expungement Of A Prior 303 Involuntary Commitment

By: Marc A. Scaringi, Esq.

A prior commitment under Sections 302, 303, 304 or 305 of the Mental Health Procedures Act results in the individual losing their right to keep and bear firearms under federal and state law. Pennsylvania statutory law, however, permits individuals who have been subjected to an involuntary commitment under Section 302 of the Mental Health Procedures Act (MHPA) to file a petition to expunge that commitment. If the individual can prove there was insufficient evidence to support the 302, the Court will expunge it — thus restoring the individual's right to keep and bear arms. That statute, however, does not provide a mechanism for individuals to expunge an involuntary commitment under Section 303 of the MHPA. So, attorneys, including those at Scaringi Law, have been citing other law in challenges against 303 commitments including "due process" challenges. Many courts have refused to permit such challenges of 303 commitments, thus styming the efforts of individuals subjected to prior 303s from having their rights restored. However, in a new case called In re J.M.Y., 179 A.3d 1140 (2018), the Pennsylvania Superior Court sitting en banc has ruled a person who has been subjected to an invalid commitment under Section 303 has the right to request a court expunge that commitment – even if that person never filed an appeal of the commitment. This is an important advancement in the rights of Pennsylvanians – namely those who would like to exercise their 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms but are prevented from doing so because of a prior 303 commitment. Now they can try to have that prior 303 expunged, which barring any other disqualifications and provided they also have their 302 expunged under current statutory law, will restore their 2nd Amendment rights. The Pa Superior Court in In re J.M.Y. went against the position of the Pennsylvania State Police and a prior panel of its own court that maintained there is no right to bring a “collateral” challenge to a prior 303 commitment and that the only way to challenge it is on appeal. Because the decision in In re J.M.Y. is an en banc decision it is binding on any subsequent panel of that court. This ruling is particularly helpful to individuals who have been subjected to a 303 commitment, but who did not appeal that decision within 30-days. Now individuals can challenge that 303-commitment years later, after the time to file an appeal has long since passed and directly at the Court of Common Pleas.

Although the court in J.M.Y. was examining a 303 commitment when it determined anyone who has been subject to an invalid 303 commitment has the right to have that commitment expunged, this holding should be applied to commitments under 304 and 305 as well. Any person who has a prior 302, 303, 304 or 305 mental health commitment and wishes to have that commitment expunged and thus have the right to one’s reputation and one’s right to keep and bear arms restored should contact Scaringi Law right away.

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