United States v. Dorsch – Case Brief Summary (Federal Court)

In United States v. Dorsch, 363 F.3d 784 (8th Cir. 2004), Dorsch was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4) after more than thirty firearms were found in his residence and it was learned that he previously had been involuntarily "committed" to the South Dakota Human Services Center. Id. at 785.

Dorsch argued that his admission did not constitute a commitment to a mental institution under § 922(g)(4). Id. The trial court disagreed. Id.

On appeal, Dorsch renewed his contention. Id. Citing 27 C.F.R. § 478.11, the appellate court noted that "regulations promulgated under § 922 define 'committed to a mental institution' as 'a formal commitment of a person to a mental institution by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority.'" Id.

In construing 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4) under federal law, the court sought "guidance from the law of the state where the prior commitment occurred South Dakota as to the meaning of commitment." Id.

The court observed:

"The regulations further specify that involuntary commitments are included within the definition, but persons in a mental institution for observation or on a voluntary basis are not within the purview of the statute." Id.

The court rejected Dorsch's claim that he had not been "committed to a mental institution as contemplated by Title 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4) and 27 C.F.R. § 478.11." Id. at 786-87.

In reaching that conclusion, the court noted that the County Board of Mental Illness found that Dorsch was mentally ill and that "involuntary commitment to a mental facility was the least restrictive treatment available for him." Id. at 786.

Moreover, it noted that these determinations "followed a hearing, during which Dorsch was represented by counsel, was given the opportunity to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses, and during which a physician testified that Dorsch was mentally ill and met the requirements of the statute." Id.