Indefinite Civil Commitment
Is Indefinite Civil Commitment Constitutional ?
In Addington v. Texas (1979) 441 U.S. 418, the court addressed the question of whether Texas's civil involuntary commitment statute could constitutionally allow an initial indefinite commitment of a person with proof by a preponderance of the evidence, as the Texas Supreme Court held. (Id. at pp. 419-422.)
"The state has a legitimate interest under its parens patriae powers in providing care to its citizens who are unable because of emotional disorders to care for themselves; the state also has authority under its police power to protect the community from the dangerous tendencies of some who are mentally ill. Under the Texas Mental Health Code, however, the State has no interest in confining individuals involuntarily if they are not mentally ill or if they do not pose some danger to themselves or others." (Addington, supra, 441 U.S. at p. 426.)
It cautioned against the possible involuntary commitment of persons who exhibit only idiosyncratic behavior: "At one time or another every person exhibits some abnormal behavior which might be perceived by some as symptomatic of a mental or emotional disorder, but which is in fact within a range of conduct that is generally acceptable. Obviously, such behavior is no basis for compelled treatment and surely none for confinement. However, there is the possible risk that a factfinder might decide to commit an individual based solely on a few isolated instances of unusual conduct. Loss of liberty calls for a showing that the individual suffers from something more serious than is demonstrated by idiosyncratic behavior. Increasing the burden of proof is one way to impress the factfinder with the importance of the decision and thereby perhaps to reduce the chances that inappropriate commitments will be ordered."
The individual should not be asked to share equally with society the risk of error when the possible injury to the individual is significantly greater than any possible harm to the state." (Addington, supra, 441 U.S. at pp. 426-427.) Accordingly, Addington concluded:
"The individual's interest in the outcome of a civil commitment proceeding is of such weight and gravity that due process requires the state to justify confinement by proof more substantial than a mere preponderance of the evidence." (Addington, supra, 441 U.S. at p. 427.)
Alternatively stated, it concluded:
"To meet due process demands, the standard of proof in a civil commitment proceeding has to inform the factfinder that the proof must be greater than the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard applicable to other categories of civil cases." (Id. at pp. 432-433.)
Addington held that due process required proof by clear and convincing evidence at the appellant's initial civil commitment hearing. 10 (Addington, supra, 441 U.S. at p. 433.)