NY Court: Mental Patient Can Challenge Unlawful Detention


New York’s top court ruled Thursday that a mentally ill patient who is sent involuntarily to a psychiatric hospital has a right to challenge detention once the court order for treatment expires.

The Court of Appeals, split 5-1, said New York’s mental health statute doesn’t preclude patients who believe they have sufficiently recovered from filing a petition against unlawful imprisonment.

“It is beyond dispute that ‘the state has authority under its police power to protect the community from the dangerous tendencies of some who are mentally ill,’” Judge Leslie Stein wrote. “Nevertheless, it has long been recognized that involuntary civil confinement involves ‘a massive curtailment of liberty.’”

The case concerns a man identified as Stephen S., detained in a Queens hospital for weeks after his court-ordered three-month treatment for paranoid delusions expired in 2012.

Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, in a dissent, said the majority believes that a patient deemed dangerous to himself and others should be automatically released solely because a hospital failed to file a timely application.

She noted that during his initial treatment, the patient struck and threatened staff and other patients numerous times, stabbed a staff member in the neck with a pen, assaulted his mother and choked a psychiatrist.