What does it take to get someone civilly committed in Oregon?

Recently, in State v. S.E.R., the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned (yet another) civil commitment order. The issue before the court was whether the evidence presented at the commitment hearing had been sufficient to prove that she was “[d]angerous to self or others” within the meaning of ORS 426.005(1)(f)(A). A person is “dangerous to self” for those purposes if the person’s mental disorder puts her at a “nonspeculative risk of serious physical harm or death in the near future, absent commitment.” State v. S. R. J., 281 Or App 741, 749-50 (2016). A person is “dangerous to others” for those purposes if her mental disorder makes her highly likely to engage in future violence toward others, absent commitment. Id at 755.

What evidence failed to meet that standard?

  • Appellant’s commitment was precipitated after police and a local mental health crisis team were called to her residence after appellant started “behaving erratically”
  • After police arrived, appellant asked them to shoot her, but (as the court noted) “there is no evidence that she behaved in a way that made it likely that they would.”
  • She was transported to a hospital, where she “presented as paranoid, psychotic, and manic, and was given emergency medications.” Her mania continued for at least 4 days. She became increasingly upset about being held at the hospital. She threatened suicide. She threatened the staff.
  • She was placed in seclusion, where she started banging her head on the floor. When staff entered the room to further restrain her, she kicked a male nurse in the genitals and continued to bang her head on whatever she could. Concerned that she had been hitting her head hard enough to cause a brain injury, medical staff arranged for a CT scan, but the scan showed no injury— appellant suffered only a minor abrasion.

The hospital initiated commitment proceedings.

The Court of Appeals conceded that appellant “was in need of further treatment for her
mental disorder,” but concluded that the above evidence was insufficient to prove (by clear and convincing evidence) “that it was highly probable that, absent commitment, appellant’s mental disorder put her at risk of serious physical harm either to herself or others.” Sure, her mental disorder made her act dangerously INSIDE the hospital setting, the court explained,  but that did not make it it highly probable that it would cause her to act dangerously OUTSIDE the hospital setting.
So what does it take, short of a near completed suicide attempt, to be civilly committed? Stay Tuned!

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