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Involuntary Commitment of the Mentally Ill

WHAT IS INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT?

An involuntary commitment is a procedure whereby a mentally ill person is involuntarily placed in the custody of the Alabama Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation for treatment or ordered to undergo treatment in the community for mental illness.
 
WHAT ELEMENTS MUST BE PRESENT IN ORDER TO COMMIT A PERSON FOR INPA­TIENT TREATMENT?

  1. The respondent is mentally ill;
  2. Because of the mental illness the person poses a real and present threat of substantial harm to himself or to others;
  3. Respondent will continue to experience mental distress and deterioration of ability to function independently if not treated;
  4. Respondent is unable to make a rational decision regard­ing treatment;
  5. Treatment is available for the person's mental illness or confinement is necessary to prevent the person from causing substantial hams to himself or to others;
  6. Commitment is the least restrictive alternative available.

 
WHAT ELEMENTS MUST BE PRESENT IN ORDER TO COMMIT A PERSON FOR OUTPATIENT TREATMENT IN THE COM­MUNITY?

  1. The respondent is mentally ill;
  2. Respondent will continue to experience mental distress and deterioration of ability to function independently if not treated;
  3. Respondent is unable to make a rational decision regard­ing treatment;
  4. Commitment is the least restrictive alternative available.

 
WHO MAY FILE A PETITION TO INITIATE AN INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT PROCEEDING?

Any person may seek to have another person committed by filing a petition with the Probate Court in accordance with Ala­bama Code § 22-52-1.2 (1975).

WHAT MUST THE PETITION CONTAIN?

  1. Name and address of the petitioner; and
  2. Name and location of respondent's spouse, attorney or next of kin; and
  3. That petitioner has reason to believe respondent is mentally ill; and
  4. Petitioner's beliefs are based on specific behavior, acts, attempts or threats which are described in detail; and
  5. Names and addresses of other people with knowledge of the respondent's illness or who observed the person's overt acts and who may be called as his witnesses.

 
WHERE IS THE PETITION FILED?

An involuntary commitment Petition is filed in the Probate Court of the county where the respondent is located.
 
IS EXPERT TESTIMONY REQUIRED IN AN INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT HEARING?

Expert witnesses testify in support of a petition to commit since the petitioner must prove that the person is mentally ill and other elements that would seem to call for an opinion beyond that of a lay person.
 
MUST A GUARDIAN AD LITEM BE APPOINTED TO AID THE PERSON SOUGHT TO BE COMMITTED?

Yes, the Probate Court must appoint a guardian ad litem, who is an attorney, to represent and protect the rights of the re­spondent.
 
MUST THE COURT APPOINT ATTORNEYS TO REPRESENT THE PARTIES INVOLVED IN AN INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT PRO­CEEDING?

  1. For the respondent: yes, if such person lacks the mental ability to secure the services of an attorney or if such person lacks the funds to employ an attorney.
  2. For the petitioner: yes, the Probate Court must appoint an attorney to advocate the petition to commit. The petitioner may employ an attorney on their own to appear in lieu of the appointed attorney. NOTE: If petition is denied and the Probate Court determines that the petition was filed in bad faith, the petitioners may be required to pay all costs of the proceedings.

 
TO WHOM MUST THE COURT SEND NO­TICE OF THE COMMITMENT PROCEEDING?

Notice of commencement of an involuntary commitment proceeding must be served on the respondent and the Alabama Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation or other facility where the petition seeks to have the person committed.
 
 
WHAT IS THE PROCEDURE TO BE FOLLOWED AT THE HEARING?

  1. The respondent has the right to be present unless waived (in writing) or presence would keep hearings from being conducted in an orderly manner.
  2. A hearing will be held by the Probate Judge or the respondent's attendance would be dangerous to the respondent’s physical or mental health without a jury.
  3. The hearings are to be open to the public unless requested otherwise by the respondent.
  4. A full transcript of the hearing must be kept for three years beyond Period of commitment.
  5. The Alabaman Rules of Evidence apply.
  6. The respondent has the right to offer evidence, and to compel witnesses and the right to cross examine.
  7. Respondent may testify in his own behalf but cannot be forced to testify against himself.
  8. Commitment is granted only if the elements required for commitment are established by clear and convincing evidence.
     

WHAT ARE THE RESULTS OF THE HEARING?

If a commitment petition is granted, the order shall be entered for outpatient treatment or inpatient treatment. The least restrictive alternative necessary and available for the treatment of the respondent's mental illness shall be ordered. Inpatient treatment may be ordered at a state mental health facility or a designated mental health facility. Outpatient treatment may be ordered at a designated mental health facility if said facility consents to treat the respondent on an outpatient basis.

WHY MUST THE PRECEDING PROCEDURE BE RIGIDLY FOLLOWED?

The preceding procedure sets out the minimum requirements necessary for the commitment process to meet Constitutional standards.
 
WHAT FOLLOWS AN INITIAL INPATIENT COMMITMENT?

  1. Initial commitment order valid for up to 150 days.
  2. State must file a petition for renewal within 30 days of expiration of initial order, stating in detail reasons for renewal.
  3. No renewal shall exceed one year.
  4. Respondent must be released if renewal petition is not filed or is denied.
  5. The Alabama Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation has "an affirmative duty to provide adequate transitional treatment and care for all patients released after a period of involuntary confinement. Transitional care and treatment possibilities include, but are not limited to, psychiatric day care, treatment in the home by visiting therapist, nursing home or extended care, outpatient treatment, and treatment in the psychiatric ward of a general hospital."

THIS INFORMATION WHICH IS BASED ON ALABAMA LAW, IS TO INFORM AND NOT TO ADVISE. NO PERSON SHOULD EVER APPLY OR INTERPRET ANY LAW WITHOUT THE AID OF AN ATTORNEY WHO ANALYZES THE FACTS, BECAUSE THE FACTS MAY CHANGE THE APPLICATION OF THE LAW.
 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

For more information, please refer to the judicial page of the Court's Internet web site.

Alabama Department of Mental Health
100 North Union Street
Montgomery, AL 36130
www.mh.alabama.gov
 
AltaPointe Heath Systems. Inc.
5750-A Southland Dr.
Mobile. AL 36693
Phone: 251450-5907
FAX: 251-450-2213
www.altapointe.org
 
Survivors of Mental Illness Outreach. Inc. (SO-MI)
4351 Mideast Drive
Mobile. AL 36609
Phone: 251-342-0261
www.somiclub.org
 
National Alliance for the Mentally III (NAMI)
P.O. Box 161522
Mobile. Al, 36616
Phone: 251-461-3450
www.namimobile.org