Guardianship folly: the misgovernment of parens patriae and the forecast of its crumbling linkage to unprotected older americans in the



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that, at a minimum, a state's commitment process must provide a reasonable relationship between the duration of a defendant's com- mitment and the purpose of the commitment.145 The Court found Indiana's process violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses because it allowed indefinite commitment of criminal defen- dants solely on account of the defendants' incompetency to stand tri- al.146

Due Process violations were also observed in Lessard v. Schmidt,147 the first federal decision regarding the constitutionality of a state's civil commitment proceedings.148 In Lessard, the defen- dant was placed in emergency detention at a mental health center on an ex parte commitment order.149 After multiple medical exami- nations and several months of detention, a trial court finally de- clared the defendant mentally ill.150 The federal court found the Wis- consin statute violated due process and ordered implementation of safeguards to protect the public from misuse.151 The court recognized that an order for civil commitment was far more serious than a court-authorized medical decision and, therefore, required addi- tional due process protection.152

In O'Connor v. Donaldson, the United States Supreme Court recognized the rights of mentally ill persons who posed no danger to themselves or to the community.153 Under Florida's involuntary commitment statute, the O'Connor defendant spent over fourteen years in a mental hospital, despite the acknowledged fact that he

145. See id. at 738. In Jackson, a court-ordered psychiatric exam of the non-verbal, hearing-impaired defendant showed the defendant was incapable of understanding the nature of the charges, could not participate in his own defense, and was unlikely to regain these abilities. See id. at 718–19.

146. See id. at 730–31.

  1. See Lessard, 349 F. Supp. at 1103.

  2. See PERLIN, supra note 93, at 86 n.304 (quoting Thomas K. Zander, Civil Com- mitment in Wisconsin: The Impact of Lessard v. Schmidt, 1976 WIS. L. REV. 503, 559).

  3. See Lessard, 349 F. Supp. at 1081. Lessard was a class action contesting the validity of Wisconsin's civil commitment procedures. See id. at 1082.

150. See id. at 1081–82.

  1. See id. at 1103–04; see also PERLIN, supra note 93, at 81 n.271 (quoting Lessard, 349 F. Supp. at 1096–97 n.27, which states that the trial judge must have based his decision that Lessard was mentally ill on his belief that she had one convic- tion for making annoying telephone calls in the past, and her statement that the Na- tional Education Association was infiltrated by communists, a belief, right or wrong, shared by others not threatened by commitment).

  2. See Lessard, 349 F. Supp. at 1088–90.

  3. See O'Connor, 422 U.S. at 576.


posed no danger to himself or others.154 The Supreme Court empha- sized that the mere existence of mental illness alone is insufficient grounds to confine a person to a mental health facility.155 The argu- ment that a mentally impaired person's standard of living is actu- ally increased through state confinement failed on merit.156 The Court found that incarceration was not the least restrictive means by which the state could provide assistance to the less fortunate.157 The Supreme Court found that such an argument established the constitutional boundaries of the “right to liberty.”158

The development of due process rights in incompetency hearings was modeled after the widespread changes to commitment laws spawned by this trilogy of catalytic cases. Following Jackson, Lessard, and O'Connor, all fifty states retooled their commitment laws to include adequate due process safeguards.159 Commitment hearings now require adequate notice to the defendant, and to fami- ly members when relevant.160 The individual should be informed of the right to be present at a commitment hearing;161 the right to ap- peal a commitment order;162 and the right to be heard, present evi-



  1. See id. at 566–68. O'Connor repeatedly demanded his release; he insisted he posed no threat, was not mentally ill, and the hospital was not treating his alleged ill- ness. See id. at 565. The Court found no constitutional basis for involuntarily confining such persons if they are not dangerous and are capable of living freely. See id. at 576. Even though the State has a proper interest in providing care and assistance, mental ill- ness alone does not disqualify a person from preferring his home to the comforts of an institution. See id. at 575. Incarceration is rarely necessary, if ever, for raising the living standards of those capable of surviving safely in freedom, on their own or with the help of family or friends. See id.

  2. See id. at 575.

  3. See id.

  4. See id. The Court also rejected the argument that incarceration was appropri- ate to protect its citizens from the exposure to persons with mental disabilities. See id. at 575; see also John Parry, Involuntary Civil Commitment in the 90s: A Constitutional Perspective, 18 MENTAL & PHYSICAL DISABILITY L. REP. 320, 324, 326 (1994) (discussing and defining “least restrictive alternative”).

  5. O'Connor, 422 U.S. at 576.

  6. See, for example, Parry, supra note 157, at 330–36 for a table of statutes of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The table presents key statutory elements for extended involuntary commitment. See id.

  7. See, e.g., CAL. WEL. & INST. CODE § 5208 (West 1984); FLA. STAT.

§ 394.467(2)(b) (1995); 405 ILL. COMP. ANN. STAT. 5/3–705 to 5/3–706 (West 1993); N.J. STAT. ANN. § 30:4-41 (West 1981).

161. See, e.g., N.J. STAT. ANN. § 30:4-41 (West 1981).

162. See, e.g., 405 ILL. COMP. STAT. ANN. 5/3-816 (West 1993); VA. CODE ANN. § 37.1-

67.6 (Michie 1990); see also In re Guzik, 617 N.E.2d 1322, 1327 (Ill. App. Ct. 1993). In

Guzik, the appellant filed an appeal notice after finding that she should be subject to
dence, and cross-examine witnesses.163

The standards of proof applicable to involuntary commitment were clarified and strengthened. A person may be committed on the basis of mental illness only upon a showing that he is both incapable of providing for his basic physical needs and unable to protect him- self from harm.164 In addition, a commitment order should require a showing of clear and convincing evidence that the individual is a threat to himself or others and that no less restrictive means of pro- tection exist.165 If a probate court's order of discharge is appealed, the person should not remain confined during the appeal period.166
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