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In re Commitment of A.A.

Decided: November 27, 1991.

IN THE MATTER OF THE COMMITMENT OF A.A.


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County.

Dreier, Gruccio and Brochin. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brochin, J.A.D.

Brochin

Appellant, A.A., was ordered temporarily committed to the Camden County Psychiatric Hospital on February 20, 1991. Following a commitment hearing on March 8, 1991, an order was entered continuing his involuntary commitment for 60 days. Before the 60 days had elapsed, he was administratively released on April 15, 1991.*fn1 He appeals from the order of commitment. Appellant contends that his involuntary commitment was illegal because the State failed to establish the requisite grounds for his commitment by clear and convincing evidence. He also claims that he was not legally subject to involuntary commitment because he was seeking admission to a hospital for psychiatric care on a voluntary basis.

Appellant suffers from a mental illness which has been managed by the administration of lithium. At 3:00 a.m. on February 17, 1991, his wife took him to the mental health crisis center at John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Kennedy Memorial Hospital is a "short term

facility"; i.e., "an inpatient, community based mental health treatment facility which provides acute care and assessment services to a mentally ill person whose mental illness causes the person to be dangerous to self or dangerous to others or property." N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.8 and -27.2(bb).

In accordance with N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.5*fn2, appellant was interviewed by "screeners." They recorded that his mood was volatile, he was feeling "very paranoid," he was experiencing auditory and visual hallucinations, hallucinatory voices were commanding him to hurt himself and other members of his family, and he had been threatening his wife and daughter with knives. The screeners also noted that three weeks earlier appellant had spent five days at the hospital, that during the previous five months he had been hospitalized there and in another local hospital on five occasions, and that, in total, he had been hospitalized ten times at Kennedy Memorial Hospital and on numerous additional occasions at Ancora Psychiatric Hospital in Hammonton, New Jersey.

The February 20, 1991, order for temporary commitment was based on these screening documents, and there was sufficient justification for committing appellant to Camden County Psychiatric Hospital pending a hearing. The symptoms which they

recorded established the precondition for the order, that there was probable cause to believe that he was "dangerous to self" and "dangerous to others" within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.2h and 30:4-27.2i. See N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.9b; In re S.L., 94 N.J. 128, 138-139, 462 A.2d 1252 (1983); State v. Krol, 68 N.J. 236, 259, 344 A.2d 289 (1975).

A psychiatrist testified at the commitment hearing on March 8, 1991. On direct examination his only pertinent testimony was the following:

Q. Doctor, is the present mental condition of [appellant] such that if he were to be discharged at this time, would he be a danger to himself, to others or to property?

A. He would, yes.

Q. And in what way does he present ...


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