WHAT IS AN INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT?
A procedure whereby a person in involuntarily placed
in the custody of the State Department of Mental Health for
treatment. A person cannot be committed due to a drug or alcohol
problem. The law specifically states that such problems do not
constitute a mental illness for purposes of this act.
WHAT ELEMENTS MUST BE PRESENT IN ORDER TO COMMIT A
unequivocal and convincing evidence that:
the respondent is mentally ill; and
because of the mental illness the person poses a
real and present threat of substantial harm to himself or to
Respondent will continue to experience mental
distress and deterioration of ability to function independently
if not treated; and
respondent is unable to make a rational decision
A recent overt act of dangerousness is no longer
required. Nonetheless, the court must be convinced that there
is a substantial likelihood that the person poses a danger to
himself or to others. Treatment is available for the person's mental
illness or confinement is necessary to prevent the person from
causing substantial harm to himself or to others; and commitment is
the least restrictive alternative available.
WHO MAY FILE A PETITION TO INITIATE AN INVOLUNTARY
Any person may seek to have another person committed
by filing a petition with the Probate Court in accordance with
§22-52-1.2 of the Code of Alabama.
WHAT MUST THE PETITION CONTAIN?
name and address of the petitioner; and
name and location of respondent's spouse, next of
kin or attorney; and
that petitioner has reason to believe respondent is
mentally ill; and
petitioner's beliefs are based on specific
behavior, acts, attempts or threats which are described in detail;
names and addresses of other people with knowledge
of the respondent's illness or who observed the person's overt
acts and who my be called as witnesses.
WHERE IS THE PETITION FILED?
In the Probate Court in the county where the
respondent is located.
Expert witnesses testify on 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 family member or friend.
A family member or friend may testify as to their
opinion on a person's sanity provided they have had adequate
opportunity to observe that the respondent's conduct is either
normal or abnormal.
A licensed general practitioner of medicine is
considered an expert under Alabama law and may render expert
testimony on a person's sanity.
MUST A GUARDIAN AD LITEM BE APPOINTED TO AID THE
PERSON SOUGHT TO BE COMMITTED?
Yes, the court must appoint a guardian ad litem who
is an attorney to represent and protect the rights of the
MUST THE COURT APPOINT ATTORNEYS TO REPRESENT THE
PARTIES INVOLVED IN AN INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT PROCEEDING?
for the respondent: yes, if such person lacks the
mentally ability to secure the services of an attorney or if such
person lack the funds to employ an attorney.
for the petitioner: yes, the court must appoint an
attorney to advocate the petition to commit. The petitioner may
employ an attorney of his or her own choice to appear in lieu of
the appointed attorney.
if petition is denied, the petitioners may be
required to pay all costs of the proceedings.
TO WHOM MUST THE COURT SEND NOTICE OF THE
Notice must be served on the respondent and the
Mental Health Department or other facility where the petition seeks
to have the person committed.
WHAT IS THE PROCEDURE TO BE FOLLOWED AT THE
the respondent has the right to be present unless waived (in
writing) or presence would keep hearings from being conducted in
an orderly manner,
a hearing is to be held by the probate judge without a jury,
the hearings are to open to the public unless requested otherwise
by the respondent,
a full transcript of the hearing must be kept for three years or
the length of commitment,
the Alabama Rules of Evidence apply,
the respondent has the right to offer evidence, and to compel
attendance of witnesses and the right to cross-examine,
respondent may testify in his own behalf but cannot be forced to
testify against himself,
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 commitment is granted, the order shall be entered
for either 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 be
constitutional under the procedural and substantive due process
WHAT FOLLOWS AN INITIAL COMMITMENT?
initial commitment order valid for up to 150 days.
state must file a petition for renewal within 30
days of expiration of initial order, stating in detail, reasons
no renewal shall exceed one year.
respondent must be released if renewal petition is
not filed or is denied.
WHAT ARE SOME ALTERNATIVES
TO INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENTS?
Outpatient treatment; group therapy; individual
therapy; or medication;
Inpatient treatment -- weekends;
Respite bed in a transitional home;
Nursing homes; or
This list of alternatives is not an exhaustive list.
These alternatives vary as to the amount of supervision involved and
whether that alternative is appropriate will depend upon the
specific facts involved. Each of these alternatives is voluntary
and requires the approval of the person sought to be committed.