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In re Commitment of C.D.A.


April 3, 2008


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Docket No. CUSU-418-07.

Per curiam.



Argued March 12, 2008

Before Judges Cuff, Lihotz and Simonelli.

Appellant C.D.A. appeals from the July 18, 2007 order involuntarily committing him to the Ann Klein Forensic Center (Ann Klein) pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.15a. We reverse.

C.D.A. was sentenced to a six-year term of imprisonment on possession of a controlled dangerous substance and resisting arrest charges. Defendant became assaultive while in prison.

As a result, he was placed on medication and transferred to the prison psychiatric unit in August 2006. On June 25, 2007, C.D.A. was temporarily involuntarily committed to Ann Klein.

On July 18, 2007, the trial judge held an initial civil commitment hearing. C.D.A.'s treating psychiatrist, Mahmood Ghahramani, M.D., was the State's only witness. The doctor testified that C.D.A. suffers from schizoaffective disorder compounded with a history of alcohol and marijuana abuse. Regarding C.D.A.'s behavior during an examination two days before the hearing, the doctor testified as follows:

The main problem is that he easily gets angered. He's just preoccupied his -- with his agenda that he has served his time and he just wants to go home, and he's not volunteer[ing] or is not able to discuss his psychiatric problem which prompted him to be treated at prison and also forced medication[.]

[H]e's not able to discuss the problems that he has[.]

And he becomes irritable, angered and loud and to the point that I just want to go home, I need my freedom, and he's not, you know -- he's not communicating with me in a kind of rational way and to the point that he became so loud that the officer in the room had to move close to me because of actually giving signal that he might act out.

The doctor admitted that C.D.A. never verbally or physically threatened or assaulted him, and was compliant with his medication and treatment. Nevertheless, the doctor opined that as a result of C.D.A.'s past assaultive behavior, he presents a danger to others.

C.D.A. testified that he understood he had a mental illness and would continue taking his medication after discharge. C.D.A.'s mother testified that C.D.A. would live with her, she would assist in monitoring his medication, and that he has the possibility of employment. Dr. Ghahramani disagreed with this plan, opining as follows:

I think that it will not be fair and appropriate for me if I agree with this plan, because to my professional opinion, besides having a major psychiatric problem compounding the history of drug and alcohol abuse, [to] go and live with a handicap[ped] mother I think [there] will be a high risk, and that's the risk that the Court has to consider.

High risk of assaulting the mother, because I have seen through my experience a lot of time the psychiatric patients that --like him with the history of violent behavior, and the mother wants to interfere with his drinking or actually using drugs, and then this cause -- this causes a kind of extreme, you know, anger and hostility, and he might do something to his mother.

Based upon the doctor's testimony, the trial judge found that defendant posed a danger to others. On July 18, 2007, the judge ordered C.D.A. involuntarily committed. After a review hearing on August 29, 2007, C.D.A. was discharged. This appeal followed.*fn1

"To justify an involuntary commitment, it is necessary to show more than the potential for dangerous conduct." In re Commitment of J.R., 390 N.J. Super. 523, 530 (App. Div. 2007) (citing R.B., supra, 158 N.J. Super. at 545). "'[T]he risk of dangerousness that will warrant involuntary commitment must be relatively immediate[.]'" Ibid. (quoting In re Commitment of N.N., 146 N.J. 112, 130 (1996)). To commit a patient, there must be clear and convincing proof that the patient is mentally ill and that the illness causes a substantial risk that if not confined the patient will constitute a danger to others or to himself in the reasonably foreseeable future. In re Applications for the Commitment of S.L., 94 N.J. 128, 137, 138 (1983) (citing State v. Krol, 68 N.J. 236, 257, 260 (1975)); J.R., supra, 390 N.J. Super. at 529-30; R.B., supra, 158 N.J. Super. at 546. "It is not sufficient that the state establish a possibility that defendant might commit some dangerous acts at some time in the indefinite future." Krol, supra, 68 N.J. at 260.

Here, the record fails to contain clear and convincing evidence of a substantial risk of dangerous conduct within the reasonably foreseeable future. The evidence that C.D.A. was assaultive one year prior to the commitment hearing, that he became irritable, angry and loud at the examination, or that he "might" be a danger to his mother is insufficient to support commitment. See J.R., supra, 390 N.J. Super. at 532 (holding evidence that patient may stop taking medication and was verbally assaultive to staff insufficient to support finding patient was a danger to himself or others); In re Commitment of J.B., 295 N.J. Super. 75, 79 (App. Div. 1996) (holding evidence that patient might possibly revert to conduct upon which he was initially committed or was hostile to other residents insufficient to support finding of substantial likelihood of dangerous behavior); In re Commitment of Raymond S., 263 N.J. Super. 428, 433-34 (App. Div. 1993) (holding evidence that patient was hallucinating, psychotic and depressed upon admission insufficient to support commitment); R.B., supra, 158 N.J. Super. at 547 (holding evidence of mood swings alone insufficient to establish that patient was dangerous to self).


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