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DO YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO JURY TRIAL IN PSYCHIATRIC COMMITMENT?

      "Despite statutory protections for commitment, research has found that procedures for involuntary commitment tend to be perfunctory and a legal charade, which merely 'rubber stamp' psychiatric recommendations" (Douglas S. Stransky, University of Miami Law Review, "Civil Commitment and the Right to Refuse Treatment..." Vol. 50:413, page 417, note 29).  Although many courts have ruled that a jury is not essential to due process, in point of actual fact, experience has shown that only when the case is decided by a jury are persons accused of mental illness given a fair trial - a fair trial being the essence of due process.  Those who have taken the time to investigate have found that judges who hear civil commitment cases without a jury always or almost always automatically and routinely commit everyone doctors recommend for commitment without a real attempt to use their own judgment to determine the appropriateness of the incarceration; and the doctors making the recommendations for commitment are often motivated by the income they earn from the commitment rather than benefit to the "patient" or society.  Some courts have ruled that due process does require a right to demand a jury trial in civil commitment for mental illness.  Additionally, every state in the U.S.A. that does not provide for a right to jury trial by statute - except Louisiana and New Jersey - have a state constitutional provision that by its terms guarantees a right to jury trial in civil (as well as criminal) cases, at least to the extent it existed at common law; and, as the highest courts of New York, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington have found, people accused of "lunacy" were tried by juries at common law.  Unfortunately, these state constitutional provisions are not enforced in every state that has one.  Some state supreme courts have even disregarded the the plain language of their state constitutions protecting the right to a jury trial when the right is asserted in a case of civil commitment for alleged mental illness, e.g., Florida and West Virginia.
      If the right to a jury trial in involuntary civil commitment for mental illness is not currently recognized in the state where you live, write to the state senator and state representative that represent the part of the state where you live explaining that lack of a right to jury trial leaves people vulnerable to unjustified involuntary psychiatric commitment.  Consider sending a copy of Unjustified Psychiatric Commitment in the U.S.A. with your letter, and refer your legislator to this web site.  Legislators often can't keep track of the mail they get, so it might be a good idea to send your letter by certified mail - return receipt requested, allowing you to know your letter was in fact received when you telephone and are told your letter can't be found.  About a week after mailing you letters, make telephone calls to the offices of the legislators you wrote to politely but firmly asking them to introduce a bill giving people accused of mental illness a right to be tried by a jury.  If they say they will not introduce such a bill, ask the senator or representative or the aides working in his/her office who in the legislature might be interested in sponsoring such legislation.  Consider contacting the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapter in your state for advice about which members of the legislature are most likely to sponsor it.  Then write to and telephone the appropriate legislators asking them to sponsor a bill to create a right to jury trial in civil commitment for mental illness.  If the deadline for introducing legislation in the current legislative session has already passed, ask if a right to jury trial can be amended into currently pending legislation.  If that doesn't work, find out when the deadline is for the next legislative session, and then contact the legislators prior to the next bill filing deadline.

Your right to a jury trial is your most important right in the judicial system.
Protect it always.


"I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." - Thomas Jefferson, quoted in a pamphlet, "Serving on a North Carolina Jury," published by the North Carolina Bar Association - a state in which there is no right to trial by jury in civil commitment for mental illness.


"The right to jury trial has been shown to be critical, numerous studies indicating that the exrcise of that right may well mean the difference between release and commitment." Opinion by SPREECHER, Circuit Judge, in Lessard v. Schmidt, 349 F.Supp. at 1100 (Oct. 18, 1972).



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