Constitutional Law

11th Circuit strikes down Florida's involuntary commitment law for intellectually disabled

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A federal appeals court has struck down Florida’s involuntary commitment law for people with intellectual disabilities because it does not provide for periodic review of the continued confinement.

The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday, holding that the law violates the due process clause, report Courthouse News Service and CBS Miami. How Appealing links to the opinion (PDF).

The appeals court ruled in the case of a man identified as J.R., who has an IQ of 56. J.R. was involuntarily committed when he was found incompetent to stand trial on a sexual battery charge in 2000. The judge who made the determination had to consider whether the residential setting was the least restrictive alternative for J.R., and whether the setting was necessary to prevent harm to himself or others. J.R. has not had a hearing on his commitment since 2005.

J.R. lives in what the statute calls a “non-secure” setting, but his liberty is still limited, the appeals court said. He has a daily curfew of 10 p.m., he can’t drink alcohol, he has to earn the right to leave his group home, and when he does leave he has to inform staffers about his whereabouts.

A federal district court had upheld the commitment law, finding that it had an implicit requirement that state authorities petition for the release of any person who no longer meets commitment criteria. The 11th circuit certified the question of an implicit requirement to the Florida Supreme Court, which found there is no requirement, either explicit or implicit, for periodic review.

Based on the state supreme court’s answer, the 11th Circuit said Florida’s law “is constitutionally infirm because it does not require periodic review of continued involuntary commitment by a decision-maker with the duty to consider and the authority to order release.”

A person’s potential for being dangerous can change, the 11th Circuit said, yet there is no requirement in the Florida law requiring reconsideration of that factor. “What happens if J.R. stops being dangerous?” the appeals court asked.

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