Involuntary Civil Commitments Must Follow the Law

HNWElder Law, Guardianship Law, Public Benefits Law for Special Needs and Disabled Persons

mental healthIn a recent NJ Appellate Division case, the court found that a trial judge made a mistake by refusing to vacate a civil commitment order solely because the mentally unstable person had already been released from confinement.

Because the existence of an involuntary commitment order is a matter of public importance and, in light of the circumstances of the case, the judge’s rationale for refusing to examine the legitimacy of the commitment order because of the discharge of the person from the psychiatric facility was wrong, and the judge should have ruled on the merits of the case.

Said the court, an involuntary “civil commitment of a person for any purpose constitutes a significant deprivation of liberty that requires due process protection”, citing In re S.L., 94 N.J. 128, 137 (1983). This case recognized that “because an involuntary commitment effects a great restraint on individual liberty, th[e] power of the State is constitutionally limited”. To be sure, the individual’s “deprivation of liberty” must be balanced against the public interest in “the need for safety and treatment” of the individual and others. Recognition of procedural safeguards against a wrongful commitment ensures that only those persons who are dangerous to themselves, others or property are involuntarily committed to treatment.” N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.1(b). To vindicate those interests, it is well-established that procedural safeguards “must be closely watched because of the extraordinary degree of state control it exerts over a citizen’s autonomy.” S.L., 94 N.J. at 139.

New Jersey law allows a facility to hold an individual for twenty-four hours while a screening service “provid[es]… treatment and conduct[s] [an] assessment.” N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.5(a). If, after performing an examination, a psychiatrist finds a need for involuntary commitment, a screening certificate must be completed. N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.5(b). The facility may then “detain” the individual “involuntarily by referral from a screening service without a temporary court order,” but “for no more than 72 hours from the time the screening certificate is executed.” N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.9(c).

During that seventy-two hour period, the facility must initiate involuntary commitment court proceedings. N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.9(c).

In this case, the court found these protections were not afforded. The judge did not enter a temporary order of commitment until the ninth day of detention.

To discuss an involuntary civil commitment or guardianship matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at Please ask us about our video conferencing or telephone consultations if you are unable to come to our office.

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq., of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold Township, Monmouth County NJ Guardianship and Power of Attorney Lawyer

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