Court-ordered Mental Health Treatment

Virginia courts can order mental health treatment of a person if a judge (or special justice) makes certain findings at a trial. Although such trials are proceedings of a General District Court, they are held in the hospital where the allegedly ill person, called the respondent, is located. The trials are called involuntary commitment hearings (or civil commitment hearings).

Mr. Basu counsels and represents respondents at civil commitment hearings in Virginia. He also provides legal services in other ways at such hearings. If you believe your family member, loved one, or friend needs psychiatric treatment or hospitalization, Mr. Basu can advise you about Virginia’s law as it relates to the case.

 Adults, juveniles, and even children can be ordered into mental health treatment under Virginia’s civil commitment laws. For adults, section 37.2-817(C) of the Code of Virginia sets forth what the judge has to find to order mental health treatment. Put simply, the judge has to find it clear & convincing that due to an ongoing mental illness, the respondent presents a threat of serious physical harm, is unable to protect himself or herself from harm, or is unable to provide for his or her basic human needs. The judge also has to find that less restrictive alternatives to the type of treatment to be ordered have been investigated, but found inadequate. Mental illness in this law includes schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, addiction, intellectual disability, eating disorders, dementia, and more.

The court can order treatment in a locked psychiatric unit (called involuntary inpatient treatment) for a maximum number of days, with or without mandatory outpatient treatment to follow after discharge from the hospital. Doctors discharge a respondent whenever they decide that is appropriate. However, instead of ordering inpatient treatment, the court can order mandatory outpatient treatment, or even dismiss the case without ordering any treatment.

If a General District Court orders treatment, the respondent has 10 days to note an appeal. Noting the appeal results in a new trial in the Circuit Court, where the respondent can ask for a jury to decide the case instead of a judge. Some cases allow a different type of appeal to challenge the General District Court hearing.

If the court orders a person’s treatment, he or she loses the right to purchase, possess or transport a firearm. This right is also revoked if someone volunteers for admission to mental health treatment at their commitment hearing. However, a respondent can petition a court to restore their rights at an appropriate time, after discharge from the hospital.

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