I often receive calls from clients who are trying to determine whether they are prohibited because of mental health commitment. Voluntary commitments are not prohibiting; however, and unfortunately, it has been my experience that individuals that agree to be voluntarily committed are often committed involuntarily based on the paperwork that the hospital files with the county Mental Health and Mental Retardation department. Accordingly, even if you believe you were voluntarily committed, you should proceed as if you have been involuntarily committed.
First, a Pennsylvania State Police background check will not reflect any mental health commitments. It will only reflect criminal convictions. Also, I have confirmed with the PSP that a PA Right to Know Law Request by the individual for any mental health records that the PSP has on that individual will not result in disclosure of any such records. Although the PSP will respond to the Right to Know Request stating that no records have been found, the PSP may actually have records.
Accordingly, it is very important to contact an attorney who knows what he or she is doing. The attorney will have to procure records from the hospital(s) and the county Mental Health and Mental Retardation Department. If records are found, they must be reviewed for compliance with PA’s Mental Health and Procedures Act. It has been my experience that quite often, the hospitals do not comply with the requirements of the Act. When they fail to comply with the Act, you are entitled to expungement of those records, which will result in the lifting of any prohibition.
Even if the records reflect that the hospital complied with the law, you still may have the ability to have your firearm rights restored and the records expunged. It is very important to discuss these issues with an attorney cognizant of state and federal firearms laws, as in order to relieve any federal firearms disability, you must obtain expungement of your involuntary commitment.