NH Supreme Court Decision: In The Matter of B.T.

For immediate release
February 20, 2006
Contact: Cindy Robertson, Senior Staff Attorney, (603) 228-0432

NH Supreme Court Affirms Freedom Rights of People with Mental Illnesses

The New Hampshire Supreme Court has clearly affirmed the rights of individuals to be free from government intrusion and control by reversing a probate court decision ordering the commitment of a woman to New Hampshire Hospital against her will. The probate court had ordered the woman committed to the state hospital for purposes of conditional discharge. The Supreme Court found that B.T. "cannot be deprived of her personal liberty by an involuntary commitment without clear and convincing proof of her dangerousness." The Greater Manchester Mental Health Center (GMMHC) attempted to commit B.T. in order to force her to take medications, but the Supreme Court found that the GMMHC’s evidence was not sufficient to show that she was dangerous.

Under the state regulations, a person who has been involuntarily committed to New Hampshire Hospital can be required to comply with outpatient treatment through a conditional discharge, which can be revoked if the person fails to comply with specific conditions set by the hospital and mental health center. B.T. had been on a three year conditional discharge that expired in June 2004. Three days after the commitment expired, the mental health center petitioned to have her committed against her will for the purpose of placing her on a conditional discharge because GMMHC staff thought she might stop taking her medications.

The court affirmed an earlier decision, under NH law, that mental illness in and of itself is insufficient to involuntarily admit any person into the mental health services system. It again found that "a psychiatrist's finding of a dangerous mental condition does not automatically operate to trigger commitment; without evidence of dangerous conduct, even the most persuasive psychiatrist's report is insufficient to justify commitment."

The court declared that evidence of agitation, delusion, and paranoia that a person may experience when off medication is not enough to make her “dangerous” to herself as required by the law for commitment. There must be evidence of specific actions which “demonstrate a threat, a likelihood, an attempt, or an actual infliction of ‘serious bodily injury’ on herself or on another.”

Not only is outpatient commitment a serious loss of freedom, but, it has not been shown to significantly improve mental health outcomes or reduce dangerous behavior. Based on measures such as rehospitalization, arrests, quality of life, symptoms, and treatment noncompliance, outpatient commitment is no more effective than access to adequate treatment and services.

See the Summary of the NH Supreme Court Opinion in In the Matter of B.T.

The full decision can be found on the NH Supreme Court website at http://www.courts.state.nh.us/supreme/opinions/2006/bt013.pdf . Research concerning outpatient treatment is available upon request from the Disabilities Rights Center.

July 7, 2006, New Hampshire Bar Association Morning Mail: Lex Loci Comment Stereotypes People with Mental Illness, by Richard Cohen and Michael Skibbie

 

updated July 20, 2017