No Longer Allowed to Lock Mentally Disabled Indefinitely in Florida
For years, laws in Florida have allowed the state to involuntarily commit individuals to mental institutions without ever reviewing the person’s case to determine if they still needed to be confined. However, a federal appeals court recently handed down a legal ruling that would ban this practice. In the review of case law, the Court stated “the Constitution requires periodic review” to determine if a person should remain institutionalized or if they are able to be released into the public.
The United State Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit heard the case which is based on an individual identified as “J.R.” This man is intellectually disabled with an IQ of only 56 and the mental capacity of a seven-year old. In 2000, J.R. was arrested and charged with sexual battery; however, his case never went to trial because the court ruled that he was mentally incompetent and unable to answer to the charges brought against him. The original criminal court then issued an order having J.R. involuntarily institutionalized in a residential mental facility. The court order for committal had no end date or duration listed, so J.R. was institutionalized indefinitely. Under Florida law, the court was the only entity with a legal standing to have him released and they had no requirement to check on J.R.’s progress and case to see if he could be released from the facility. Because of this lack of obligation, J.R’s case has not been reviewed since 2005.
The appeals court has ruled that this is not legal. Judge Beverly Martin wrote the opinion for the two-judge panel stating, “A state must release a person who is involuntarily committed if the grounds for his commitment cease to exist.” She went on to add that the requirement under the constitution is “toothless” if the state does not conduct period reviews of the individual’s case.
J.R. was committed under a law which states that a person can be institutionalized if they require close supervision due to a lack of self-care skills or if they pose a physical risk of injury to themselves or others. J.R.’s counsel argued that he may have presented a danger when he was committed, but he has learned coping skills in the ten years since his last review and that he no longer poses a danger to others. They also add that continuing to keep him locked up is unconscionable since he has never been convicted of a crime.
A recent story by the Tampa Bay Times has shown that this is not an isolated occurrence (http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/mentally-handicapped). In fact, there are a number of mentally disabled individuals who have spent years and even decades locked in institutions without even being convicted of a crime. If someone you care for has been committed by the state with no review of his or her case, contact the Law Offices of Wolf & Pravato for more information about their rights and legal options.
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