Involuntary Confinement in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania

personal injury lawyer camden county njBy: Brian Newman, Esquire

We often have clients with loved ones that are engaging in self-destructive behavior, either from drug use or mental health problems, who refuse to get help. These clients want to force the person to seek help for their own good. Unfortunately, it is difficult to force an adult to do something against their will, but under certain circumstances, it is possible.

One way to force treatment is to have it ordered as a bail condition. This is only an option if the person was criminally charged with either a misdemeanor or felony. If this applies, a local magistrate judge can order a mental health evaluation as a bail condition at the preliminary arraignment. Some judges will even set a cash bail (meaning the defendant will sit in prison unless they post a set amount of money), with the condition that, if the defendant attends treatment, the cash bail will be lifted.

This gives the defendant three options:

  1. Sit in jail until sentencing;
  2. Post the cash bail (usually difficult for clients with these types of issues), or
  3. Seek appropriate treatment

If there are no criminal charges, the only way to force treatment is to have an individual “involuntarily committed” pursuant to section 7302 of the Mental Health Procedures Act (commonly referred to as being “302’d”). This is a drastic action, with serious consequences in Pennsylvania.

To have an individual involuntarily confined, one must first report the conduct in question to the appropriate authorities. Individuals can do this by calling the Montgomery County Emergency Services (“MCES”) hotline at (610) 279-6100. The information provided to MCES must support the idea that the individual is a clear and present danger to themselves or others. If MCES believes it is warranted, they will provide information on how to fill out a petition.

This petition goes to a County Mental Health Delegate (“CMHD”). CMHDs are professionals that are highly trained and educated about both mental health issues and the Mental Health Procedures Act. Based on the petition, if the CMHD believes the individual in question is severely mentally disabled and an immediate danger to themselves or others, a warrant will be issued. If a warrant is issued, a mental health professional or the police will bring the individual to a facility within Montgomery County to undergo a psychiatric evaluation by a physician. The law mandates that the examination occurs within two (2) hours of arrival at the facility.

The decision of whether or not to 302 an individual is made by a psychiatrist at Montgomery County Emergency Services. The decision is based on:

  1. The Mental Health Procedure Act’s requirements;
  2. The information contained within the petition; and
  3. The results of the psychiatric evaluation mentioned above

After reviewing this information, if the psychiatrist believes that the individual is a clear and present danger to himself or others, the person is involuntarily committed under Section 302. In Montgomery County, individuals that are 302’d are held at Montgomery County Emergency Services, and they can remain there for up to 5 days (or until it is decided that mental health treatment is no longer needed).

If an individual is 302’d, and after five days the facility decides that the individual is in need of additional mental health treatment, MCES can apply for an extension of the commitment under Section 303. The facility does this by filing a petition in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. Prior to the extension being granted, a hearing is held. The statute mandates that this hearing occurs in front of either a judge or mental health review officer. In Montgomery County, this hearing is usually held in front of a mental health review officer at Montgomery County Emergency Services. Attorneys are allowed at this hearing.

If the mental health review officer finds that further treatment is required, the involuntary commitment can be extended an additional 20 days (or until it is decided that mental health treatment is no longer needed).

In taking the above steps, it is important to be aware that not every petition results in a warrant, and not every warrant results in a commitment. Very strict standards are applied because forcing involuntarily treatment strips an individual of their constitutional rights. In Pennsylvania, being 302’d also takes away an individual’s right to own a firearm.

The only way to get a 302 commitment off of one’s record is via a civil expungement, and that can only occur if the decision to commit was wrong. Here at Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg, and Gifford, we are familiar with the process, and advise clients throughout it. We also assist individuals with civil expungements. Call us at 215-822-7575 or email me at [email protected]

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.