Devastating Decision Regarding Mental Health Commitment Challenges and Firearms Rights

Late last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its decision in In re: Nancy White Vencil, 90 MAP 2015, which overturned the Pennsylvania Superior Court’s learned decision finding that a challenge, pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. § 6111(g)(2), to the sufficiency of an involuntary commitment was to be de novo, supported by clear and convincing evidence, where the burden was, in essence, to rest with the Commonwealth.

Unfortunately, the PA Supreme Court vacated the decision as it concluded that the Superior Court erred since, in its opinion

the plain language of section 6111.1(g)(2) requires a court of common pleas to review only the sufficiency of the evidence to support the 302 commitment, limited to the information available to the physician at the time he or she made the decision to commit the individual, viewed in the light most favorable to the physician as the original decision-maker to determine whether his or her findings are supported by a preponderance of the evidence.

Although the Court acknowledged that “By legislative design, there is no judicial involvement in the decision to effectuate a 302 commitment and no right to appeal the physician’s decision” and therefore affords no due process (an issue which Mrs. Vencil apparently failed to raise (pdf pg. 18 (declaring “Vencil has not challenged the due process protections provided by Section 302 of the MHPA. Nor has she raised a due process argument in connection with her right to keep and bear arms under the United States and/or Pennsylvania Constitutions)), the Court declared that a trial court is only

to 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 records, supports the conclusion that the individual required commitment under one (or more) of the specific, statutorily-defined circumstances.

Interestingly, the Court did not address the sufficiency/review of the requisite records for an involuntary commitment, pursuant to 50 P.S. § 7302 and the implementing regulations. This is likely due to this issue not having been raised and therefore was not considered by the Court.

The Court went on to declare that

The Legislature could have broadly created an appeals process under the MHPA for 302 commitments, but it did not; it could have required a de novo hearing but it did not. Instead, it narrowly provided that under 6111(g)(2) of the Uniform Firearms Act, a petitioner is entitled only to have a trial court review the sufficiency of the evidence upon which the commitment was based.

It is also important to note that the Court recognized in fn. 4 (pdf pg. 7) that the Pennsylvania State Police waived any consideration of the statute of limitations. The Court’s acknowledgment of is somewhat concerning as a specific of statute of limitations has not been enacted by the General Assembly and the Court did not specify what the appropriate statute of limitation is for sufficiency challenges to civil mental health commitments.

It is for these reasons, including the lack of requisite due process, that it is imperative that the General Assembly enact a new law regarding mental health commitment appeals, in compliance with all dictates of due process.

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2 Comments

Filed under Firearms Law, Pennsylvania Firearms Law

2 responses to “Devastating Decision Regarding Mental Health Commitment Challenges and Firearms Rights

  1. david b

    A 302 in PA is nothing more than becoming a 2nd class citizen that can be based on a false allegation that someone was suicidal. 302’s taking someone’s Constitutional rights should be struck down as unconstitutional. Even California gives a person their guns rights back 5 years after a mental health commitment. I advise all veterans DO NOT EVER get involved in the VA mental health system because they look for any reason to commit someone. I served honorably in the military to become a 2nd class citizen who lost my gun rights and ability to feel safe and secure in a declining neighborhood based on a corrupt cop claiming I was suicidal almost 25 years ago.. I really served to protect a toxic and dishonest system that took away my Constitutional rights.

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    • Scott B.

      David, brother… You and me both…

      Some minor differences, though. In late 1998, my ex called Johnny Law and falsely claimed I was suicidal and had a gun (in a closed container and NOT on my person). They came and took me down with shotguns pointed at me, got authorization from MHMR to transport, and took me to the ER. PART II of the 302 petition, which is required by law, was NEVER filled out! The doc “examined me” when I got there, without any statement by the police. I chose to remain silent, since I had just had shotguns pointed at me and was cuffed and stuffed, then cuffed to a hospital bed with the officer standing over me, I assumed I was under arrest…

      I wasn’t given my Patient’s Rights, though PART IV of the 302 was signed… THE NEXT DAY! The hospital report states five times in an 18 hour period “patient cooperative”. It also states, AFTER the “examination” by the doc, “awaiting MHMR delegate to help wife fill out 302 petition. pt continues to be cooperative.” Nowhere in there does it indicate dangerousness! And yet, the doc put on the RESULTS OF EXAM, TREATMENT NEEDED: (unreadable) eval.

      Four hours later, I requested to go home (Florida), and the response was, “pt remains cooperative-asking to go home. (Security) officer explanation why he can’t”. So I requested to go to the VA. At noon the next day, I was transferred. But the VA police was standing by, so I chose to remain silent again, as I didn’t know if I had any charges or not.

      The tried to 303 me, but, according to the Mental Health Review Officer, “this 303 hearing be discharged for the reason that the testimony did not prove that the Respondent posed a clear and present danger of harm to either himself or others.” In fact, in 2001, the VA yanked my PTSD disability from 70% to 10%!

      I was NEVER a resident of Pennsylvania, either! And yet, the PSP reported my (unlawful, in my opinion) 302 to the NICS in 2013, several years after I was hired as sworn law enforcement! Amazing…

      So, David B., take heart. You’re not alone. And there WILL be some relief in the future.

      Like

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