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Seattle Times letters to the editor

May 13, 2014 at 7:04 AM

Mental health: Constitution protects against involuntary commitment

The law requiring prompt assessment of involuntarily committed patients is neither obscure nor a technicality [“Evaluators’ missed deadlines are freeing county mental patients,” Local News, May 10]. It is part of a very important right enshrined in the U.S.

The Constitution requires the right of having the validity of one’s detention determined by habeas corpus within a reasonable time. In the absence of such a requirement, a major legal loophole would exist — police would be able to detain people indefinitely, not by taking them into a police detention facility, but by committing them to a mental-health facility.

Valid reasons for involuntary commitment are rare. The legal time limit protects patients who do not warrant such committal. The Times article identifies the wrong problem: Rather than doing away with the requirement for a prompt assessment within a reasonable time, we should be ensuring that such assessments are consistently handled promptly — for instance, that the county evaluator has adequate staff and budget to perform all needed assessments within the time limit.

Were the analogous situation happening within our jails (large numbers of accused criminals being released because they were not brought before a judge within a reasonable period), we would demand more funding for the justice system, not the abolition of the right against indefinite detention.

Vikram K. Mulligan, Seattle

Comments | More in Mental illness | Topics: constitution, habeas corpus, involuntary commitment

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