Burden of Proof for Involuntary Commitment

In re Hospitalization of Mark V., 375 P.3d 51 (Alaska 2016)

Alaska Supreme Court rules that for involuntary commitment based upon the person’s inability to care for self in the community, the petitioner has the burden to prove that, even with the services and supports that are available in the community, the person is too disabled to care for self and that commitment is the least restrictive alternative.

Background: Anchorage police took Mark V. into custody and transported him to an emergency psychiatric facility after he was found nude in public claiming to be the King of England. The treatment facility petitioned the superior court for an ex parte order authorizing Mark’s hospitalization at Alaska Psychiatric Institute based on a determination that he was “gravely disabled” as a result of paranoid schizophrenia. The superior court granted the petition and ordered an evaluation period of 72 hours. During that initial evaluation period, Mark’s treating psychiatrist filed a petition seeking to extend Mark’s commitment for an additional 30 days. The superior court approved the 30-day commitment order based on testimony by Mark’s psychiatrist that Mark’s inappropriate behavior would continue if he were released before his manic symptoms improved.

Holding: The Alaska Supreme Court held that a 30-day commitment petition must allege less restrictive alternatives have been considered and petitioners must prove by clear and convincing evidence at a hearing that there are no less restrictive alternatives. The court found that this burden was met during the hearing and affirmed the decision of the superior court granting the 30-day commitment.

Notable Point:

No less restrictive alternative: The court explained that it is a constitutional prerequisite for involuntary commitment to prove that no less restrictive alternatives exist.

Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 3