Massachusetts Supreme Court Offers Ruling on Location of Commitment Hearings

 

In recent months, we’ve shared about a case that went before the Massachusetts Supreme Court to determine whether or not people who are being held on psychiatric units against their will are entitled to commitment hearings that are held in official court rooms. Massachusetts law already requires a formal court hearing when the hospital intends to hold someone against their will beyond the initial three-day hold permitted by law. However, many of those hearings happen in hospital rooms instead of court houses. This has the potential to create immediate bias against the person being held, but also leads to the potential of a number of other issues.

In the case that brought this to the Supreme Court, one individual was being held at Solomon Carter Fuller in Boston in 2017. He requested for his commitment hearing to be held in a court room, but it was held in a room at the hospital instead. Near the beginning of the proceeding, the court’s recording equipment failed. No replacement equipment was available and so cell phones were used, but some of the hearing could not be properly documented. Based on all this, the court was asked to determine whether being forced to have this proceeding in a hospital violated this individual’s right to due process.

In an effort to get different voices heard, many people who’ve experienced hospitalization and the attorneys who have allied with them spent a great deal of time pulling together input and filing Amicus briefs (a statement from people not directly related to the case at hand, but who are invested in its outcome in some way). Then they waited. And, on February 5th the decision was released.

Disappointingly, the courts decided that the individual held (MC) did not have his rights to due process violated, and the proceedings were acceptable. However, the court did not make a ruling on whether or not there is a right under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to have a hearing in a court room. Word is that this piece will continue to be pursued.

You can read the ruling HERE