M.D. was admitted to Trenton Psychiatric Hospital on July 17, 1990, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.1 et seq., and committed by an order dated July 18, 1990. Following a plenary hearing pursuant to R. 4:74-7(e) and (f), and N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.1, I ordered that M.D. be involuntarily committed, notwithstanding his request to be admitted as a voluntary patient.
Specifically, the question presented is whether, as a matter of law, a patient who has been involuntarily confined to a psychiatric facility may be converted to a voluntary status as a matter of right, so long as the patient makes the requisite showing
that he is "willing to be admitted to a facility voluntarily for care" (N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.2(ee). This question is asked even though the State would be able to meet the requisite proofs of mental illness and dangerousness required for an involuntary civil commitment.
It is a matter of law which involves the construction of the statutory scheme governing civil commitment and voluntary hospitalization. It is codified in N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.1 et seq. Also involved is the corresponding court rule, R. 4:74-7.
R. 4:74-7(f) captioned "Final Order of Commitment, Review" sets forth four criteria required for involuntary civil commitment. The rule states, in relevant part, as follows:
The court shall enter an order authorizing the involuntary commitment of an adult patient if it finds, by clear and convincing evidence presented at the hearing that the patient is in need of continued involuntary commitment by reason of the fact that he is (1) mentally ill, (2) mental illness causes him to be dangerous to self or dangerous to others or property as defined in N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.2h and 2i, (3) he is unwilling to be admitted to a facility for voluntary care, and (4) he needs care at a short term care, psychiatric facility because other services are not appropriate or available to meet his mental health care needs.
Thus, the rule is explicit in that each of the four identified criteria must be established by clear and convincing evidence before an order authorizing involuntary confinement can be entered. It follows that if any of the four criteria are not present, then an order for involuntary commitment is not properly entered.
In the instant matter, it was not established that M.D. was "unwilling to be admitted at a facility for voluntary care." R. 4:74-7(f)(3). In fact, it was represented on oral motion by M.D.'s counsel that M.D. desired to be admitted voluntarily to the facility. Under these circumstances, it is clear that M.D.'s involuntary commitment was neither necessary nor authorized under the court rule, inasmuch as he desired to willingly admit himself for care on a voluntary basis.
The current statutory scheme governing civil commitment provides for involuntary civil commitment only when a person
refuses care on a voluntary basis. This standard applies even though the state could establish that the person was mentally ill, and as a result, likely to be dangerous. In fact, the statute has specifically defined "voluntary admission" to include individuals who may be dangerous. N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.2(ee) has defined voluntary admission as:
(t)hat adult who is mentally ill, whose mental illness causes the person to be dangerous to self or dangerous to others or property and is willing to be admitted to a facility voluntarily for care, needs care at a short-term care or psychiatric facility because other facilities or services are not appropriate or available to meet the person's mental health needs. A person may also be voluntarily admitted to a psychiatric facility if his mental illness presents a substantial likelihood of rapid deterioration in functioning in the near future, there are no ...