New York's Involuntary Hospitalization of Sex Offenders upon Release from Prison Ruled Illegal

By Hafemeister, Thomas L. | Developments in Mental Health Law, January 2007 | Go to article overview

New York's Involuntary Hospitalization of Sex Offenders upon Release from Prison Ruled Illegal


Hafemeister, Thomas L., Developments in Mental Health Law


Responding to the New York legislature's unwillingness to pass legislation permitting convicted sex offenders to be civilly committed upon their release from prison, Gov. George E. Pataki in September 2005 had twelve men nearing the end of their prison sentences for various felony sex offenses involuntarily confined in New York City psychiatric hospitals under a novel interpretation of the state's mental health laws.

These laws usually govern the hospitalization of non-criminal individuals with a mental illness. The men were committed under a section of New York law that permits involuntary hospitalization for a period of sixty days without court approval based upon the certificates of two examining physicians.

While this matter was being litigated, about 100 other men in New York were also transferred to civil confinement pursuant to Gov. Pataki's initiative.

The high court of New York, the Court of Appeals, ruled unanimously that this section of New York law was inapplicable to these individuals and thus they were being illegally detained. The court determined that a different section that governs the transfer of prisoners with a mental illness to mental health facilities should have been applied instead. The court noted that before the inmate can be transferred under the latter there must first be an evaluation by two independent court-appointed physicians, the inmate can request a judicial hearing, and there must be a formal court order committing them.

The court noted that two of the inmates' applications for commitment were submitted on the date of their scheduled release and the other ten applications before the court were submitted from one to four days prior to release.

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New York's Involuntary Hospitalization of Sex Offenders upon Release from Prison Ruled Illegal
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