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My office represents individuals facing involuntary commitment hearings in Virginia. If you are reading this blog, you likely are a family member or friend of someone who is in a mental hospital involuntarily in Virginia.
This article describes the procedures for a commitment hearing. Generally, after a magistrate issues a temporary detention order from evidence presented in a petition from a police officer or family member the individual is placed in a mental facility in the area. For Hampton Roads, that will generally be Virginia Beach Psychiatric Hospital or Virginia Beach General Hospital. After commitment, the individual will have a commitment hearing within 48 business hours. At the commitment hearing, the patient is represented by an attorney and the hearing is conducted by an appointed special justice. At the hearing is generally a community board officer and an independent medical examiner who examines the patient and makes recommendations as to whether certain criteria are met to warrant involuntary hospitalization. At the hearing, the patient can choose to waive the hearing and submit to voluntary commitment. This subjects the patient to up to a 5 day hold in the facility. The patient cannot leave the facility for those five days without the consent of the treating physician. After those five days, the patient is either released or another commitment hearing is held. If the patient desires to contest the allegations, then evidence is presented to the special justice from the petition filed by the officer or family member (who can be present), the independent medical examiner will testify and the community service board will testify if necessary. The attorney is able to cross examine the witnesses and then may present evidence on behalf of the patient to include the patient testifying. At the conclusion of the hearing the special justice will either dismiss the petition (allowing the patient to leave the facility immediately) or enter an involuntary commitment order which keeps the patient in the facility until a physician decides it is appropriate to release them. Either a voluntary commitment or involuntary commitment order has grave consequences to the individual. Most importantly there is an independent civil record of commitment that will be in the public record. This record has many side effects, most importantly being the lifetime prohibition to own or possess a firearm. The only way to get firearm rights restored after a commitment order is entered is by petition to the General District Court. If an individual is committed involuntarily, the appeal of the order is straight to the Circuit Court with a jury trial. This takes time, so an appeal will not get the patient out. In fact, most appeals take longer than someone may be committed. But the purpose of the appeal is to protect your reputation, protect your gun rights and to avoid a serious order being part of your record. My office handles appeals and commitment hearing matters for any facility in Virginia. Should you wish to discuss this on behalf of a family member, please contact me at 757-301-3636. – Tim Anderson