Records of Involuntary Commitment

After a person is involuntarily committed, there is a record of such commitment. This record prevents an individual from possessing or purchasing a firearm. It can impact an individual applying for a security clearance, professional license, or can be seen in a records search by some employers.

Summary of PA’s Involuntary Commitment Law

Individuals in Pennsylvania can be involuntarily committed for a period not exceeding five-days (one hundred twenty hours) if a physician determines that the person is severely mentally disabled. 50 P.S. § 7302. This is often called a “302” of a “§ 302 commitment.” A person can be deemed severely mentally disabled if, as a result of mental illness, a person’s “capacity to exercise self-control, judgment and discretion in the conduct of his affairs and social relations or to care for his own personal needs is so lessened that he poses a clear and present danger of harm to others or to himself.” 50 P.S. § 7301(a).

This involuntary commitment can also be extended by a period not to exceed twenty (20) days pursuant to 50 P.S. § 7303.

Clear & Present Danger Standard Explained

Clear and present danger to others can be established by demonstrating that a person has inflicted or attempt to inflict serious bodily harm on another within the past thirty (30) days and there is a reasonable probability that such conduct will be repeated. 50 P.S. § 7301(b).  Making threats to harm another person and committing some act in furtherance of harming another person is proof that a person is a clear and present danger to others. 50 P.S. § 7301(b).

Clear and present danger to oneself can be established by showing that a person, within the preceding thirty (30) days, acted in a manner that demonstrates that the person cannot satisfy his/her own needs or ensure his/her own safety without the supervision and care of others. 50 P.S. § 7301(b). Additionally, it must be shown that there is a reasonable probability that death, serious bodily injury, or serious physical debilitation would occur within thirty (30) days unless the person is provided with treatment. 50 P.S. § 7301(b). An attempted suicide is normally enough to establish clear and present danger to oneself. 50 P.S. § 7301(b)(2)(ii). Threats to commit suicide and some act in furtherance of such threats can also establish clear and present danger to oneself. 50 P.S. § 7301(b)(2)(ii).

Expungements of Involuntary Commitment Records

Pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. § 6111.1(g)(2), a person can have a § 302 involuntary commitment expunged by petitioning the appropriate Court of Common Pleas to review the sufficiency of the evidence upon which the involuntary commitment was based. The Court of Common Pleas then reviews the evidence upon which an involuntary commitment is based to determine if the evidence is insufficient. 18 Pa.C.S. § 6111.1(g)(2). If the court determines that the evidence was insufficient, it will order the involuntary commitment records expunged. 18 Pa.C.S. § 6111.1(g)(2).

In In re Vencil, 152 A.3d 235 (Pa. 2017) the Pennsylvania Supreme Court clarified the meaning of 18 Pa.C.S. § 6111.1(g)(2). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a court reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence to support an involuntary § 302 commitment must “review the physician’s findings, made at the time of the commitment, to determine whether the evidence known by the physician at the time, as contained in the contemporaneously-created record, supports the conclusion that the individual required [involuntary] commitment. . . .” In re Vencil, 152 A.3d 235, 242 (Pa. 2017). Therefore, no new evidence can be presented at the hearing to expunge an involuntary commitment. The court can only consider what was known to the physician at the time of the commitment.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania further defined what sufficiency of the evidence means concerning expunging involuntary commitments. The sufficiency of the evidence determination requires the court to review the facts in the light most favorable to the original decision maker when determining if the involuntary commitment should be expunged. Id. at 242–43. Therefore, a court will review the original record of involuntary commitment and show deference to the physician that decided involuntary commitment was necessary when expunging an involuntary commitment.

Importance of Obtaining Counsel to Expunge an Involuntary Commitment

Based upon In re Vencil, it is difficult to have an involuntary commitment expunged. Therefore, it is important that you contact an experienced attorney that can properly evaluate whether you can have your involuntary commitment expunged and to make the most compelling argument to achieve expungement.

Contact Lampman Law at (570) 371-3737 today for a free consultation on whether you can have your involuntary commitment expunged.

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Lampman Law practices criminal defense and civil rights in the Counties of: Bradford, Carbon, Clinton, Columbia, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming, Mifflin, Monroe, Montour, Northampton, Northumberland, Pike, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Union, Wayne, Wyoming. Lampman Law Office is located in Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.

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