Author Topic: Pa. Supreme Court: Minors May Be Involuntarily Committed  (Read 736 times)

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Offline Stripe

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Pa. Supreme Court: Minors May Be Involuntarily Committed
« on: August 31, 2010, 09:16:40 PM »
Published on originally on Law.Com Augst 31, 2010
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Pa. Supreme Court: Minors May Be Involuntarily Committed for Drug, Alcohol Addiction
By:  Leo Strupczewski

The Legal Intelligencer
August 31, 2010

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of an act that allows for parents and guardians to have minors involuntarily committed for drug and alcohol treatment.

Writing that prior case law established the presumption that parents act in the best interest of their children, the court, by way of a 6-1 majority, ruled that parents' rights to make decisions on the care of their children are "paramount" to the constitutional rights of their children.

That, along with the decision that the therapeutic nature of drug and alcohol treatment altered the bar for due process claims, helped lead the court to its ruling.

"We stress that we are dealing with a process in which a parent or guardian is seeking medical treatment for their child," Justice Debra Todd wrote. "This statute is civil in nature and involves therapeutic treatment for a brief duration -- as well as the hope of recovery and a brighter future for the child."

Justice Thomas G. Saylor dissented from the majority, writing that he was concerned with the risk for errors in making commitments, the possible length of the commitments and the manner in which the assessment is completed.

"I am not insensitive to the possibility that familial ties may be strained by pitting children against their parents or guardians as adversaries in a judicial setting and hence, I would not conclude that adversarial testing of the petitioner's veracity or motives is constitutionally required -- particularly as the petition itself becomes largely irrelevant once an assessment is ordered," Saylor wrote.

"I would hold, though, that, in view of the substantial involuntary commitment periods authorized by Act 53, and the possibility of erroneous deprivations due to the brevity of the assessment process, the 14th Amendment entitles a minor to a more thorough evaluation concerning the need for inpatient treatment than the relatively scanty procedures outlined in Act 53."

Marsha Levick, chief counsel for the Juvenile Law Center, had argued at oral arguments in September 2009 that the act was unconstitutional on its face.

Reached for comment, she said the decision was a "great disappointment."

"The lack of protection [for juveniles] is worrisome," Levick said. "Having said that, I'm not sure where else we can go."

She later added: "You can read Saylor's dissent and we certainly take solace that at least one justice who heard the case agreed with what our arguments were."

Kemal A. Mericli of the Office of the Attorney General, who had argued the act was constitutionally viable, could not be reached for comment.

According to Todd, a juvenile, referred to only as F.C., was committed to a residential treatment program after his grandmother filed a two-sentence petition and he admitted during an assessment that he used marijuana daily and alcohol occasionally.

His grandmother's petition read "[F.C.] will not go to school and I believe he's doing drugs and he's running away. And he's stealing."

The minor had volunteered to attend an outpatient program.

After the trial court ordered the commitment, F.C. appealed the decision and challenged the constitutionality of Act 53, which permits such commitments. The court ruled it was constitutionally viable, as did a unanimous panel of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

Authoring the Superior Court panel's decision, Senior Judge Robert E. Colville wrote that due process is "concerned with the procedural safeguards demanded by each particular situation in light of the legitimate goals of the applicable law." Considering that fact, Colville wrote for the panel, the procedures used under Act 53, namely, not providing juveniles an opportunity to dispute the allegations lodged against them and subjecting them to assessment outside the presence of counsel, are "fundamentally fair" when weighed against the goal of providing treatment to minors.

In her analysis of the case, Todd agreed with Colville's reasoning.

The justice cited the 1979 U.S. Supreme Court decision Parham v. J.R.

Though F.C. argued Parham required a "careful analysis" of a minor's background before making a commitment decision to meet due process standards, Todd wrote the case recognized minors enjoy "certain rights," but that the "significant right of the parent or guardian to make decisions regarding care is paramount."

Further, Todd wrote, Act 53 requires a parent or guardian to file a petition, a medical professional to conduct an assessment and a formal hearing, with a right to counsel for the minor, before a juvenile may be involuntarily committed by the court.

Those requirements must be met every 45 days to determine whether a juvenile should still be committed, according to Todd.

F.C. argued the state's Mental Health Procedures Act and additional Act 53 procedures in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas offered extra protections to juveniles that should be extended in all Act 53 proceedings.

Todd wrote, however, that the U.S. Supreme Court has held there is no constitutional right to a formal hearing for a minor when a parent or guardian thinks there's a need for medical treatment and that a "minimal informal" procedure is enough.

Further, Todd wrote, parents or guardians filing petitions with the court do so subject to penalty of unsworn falsification to authorities.

"[W]hile the provision of additional protections for minors as exemplified in other statutes and in Allegheny County may be salutary, they do not render Act 53 itself unconstitutional," Todd wrote. "In this light, appellant's argument for additional protections is more properly made to the General Assembly
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by Guest »
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Offline Oscar

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Re: Pa. Supreme Court: Minors May Be Involuntarily Committed
« Reply #1 on: September 01, 2010, 12:39:00 AM »
It is awful that the supreme court would give so much power to someone who is not experts in this field.

If I find that my children drinks and take drugs, I can apply for help by the social services and they will do their best to help me by analyzing the situation and find proper treatment if they find that the use demand treatment. The analyze is important, because the analyze include an investigation of me to check if I suffer from Münchausen syndrome by proxy.

I can hear the protests. Those cases are rare. It will almost never happen. Fact is that a 13 year old girl died last year in Odense because her ill father believed that her opposition to his manic demands for topgrades was violence so he took his hammer to calm her down. Short to say her head popped and she died. Had he gone to the social services she would be alive.

The TV-show "Juvie" saw a mother who reported her son (Dale) as a runaway just because he stopped to talk with a friend going home from school. The court hearing revealed that she had taken him to the hospital several time claiming drug and alcohol use. The doctors found no evidence of that and the judge demanded that the boy should move to his father where there was no problems at all.

I believe that the supreme court should have come to the conclusion that parents can demand an investigation. It should be their right. But the decision whether to give a go for treatment should be done by the social service by a court ruling. It would save lives.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by Guest »