Trifecta of Civil Commitment Victories in Minnesota

Trifecta of Civil Commitment Victories in Minnesota

Repka Law is proud to offer representation to those facing civil commitments. A civil commitment is a legal process whereby an “interested person” (usually a hospital) seeks to confine somebody with chemical dependency or a mental illness or against his/her will. This process typically begins when a person ends up hospitalized after exhibiting symptoms of chemical dependency (e.g., seizures from withdrawals) or a mental illness (e.g., threatening or attempting to commit suicide, committing a crime while legally incompetent, etc.).

After the person reaches the hospital, s/he is placed on an involuntary hold for 72 hours. This means the person will be locked inside the hospital for up to three days to determine whether s/he should undergo civil commitment proceedings. After the 72 hours expires, the hospital must either: 1) release the person, or 2) ask the county attorney’s office to file a civil commitment petition in district court. If the latter happens, then the hospital will continue to hold the person pending the outcome of the civil commitment case.

Civil commitment cases are similar to criminal cases in many ways. First, the county attorney’s office represents the hospital, just as it does in criminal cases when it represents the State of Minnesota. Second, the person subject to civil commitment—the respondent—is entitled to a court-appointed or private attorney. Third, the county attorney’s office bears the burden to prove the respondent should be committed, just as it would if it were trying to convict a defendant in a criminal case. Finally, the consequence being civilly committed is involuntary confinement at a locked facility, just like a defendant convicted of a crime goes to jail or prison.

The differences between civil commitment cases are few but vast. For example, the respondent in a civil commitment case does not go to jail or prison. Rather, s/he either remains at the hospital or is transported to a state-operated facility. Additionally, the government’s burden of proof is lower in civil commitment cases. Specifically, the government bears the lower “proof by clear and convincing evidence” burden in civil commitment cases instead of the higher “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” in criminal cases.

Arguably, the underlying purpose of the civil commitment system is to protect the public. On one hand, society needs a system to protect the public and individuals when people present a real and imminent threat of danger as a result of their mental illness symptoms. On the other hand, confining a person against his/her may seem like punishment for being chemically dependent or mentally ill.

That’s where Repka Law comes in. The government’s authority to commit people needs to be checked by an attorney who isn’t afraid to advocate for a person’s civil liberties—regardless of any alleged chemically dependency or mentally illness. I was honored to represent three individuals whom the government subject to the civil commitment process. In two cases, we secured complete dismissals. In the third case, we prevailed over the government’s motion to dismiss our client’s petition for full discharge from commitment.