In Re MH 2008-001752 – 8/6/2009

August 18, 2009

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That A Patient in a Hearing for Involuntary Mental Health Treatment Does Not Have a Due Process Right to In-Court Identification.

A petition was filed seeking involuntary medical treatment for a patient diagnosed with schizophrenia.  As required by A.R.S. § 36-539(B), two acquaintances of the patient testified at the hearing regarding the patient’s condition.  The court found that the patient was suffering from a mental illness and ordered that the patient undergo inpatient and outpatient treatment for up to a year. The patient appealed the court’s decision, arguing that her due process rights were violated because no witness identified her during the hearing as the subject of the petition for involuntary treatment.

The Arizona Appeals Court affirmed the treatment order, holding that patients in such hearings do not have a due process right to in-court identification.  The Court stated that the patient’s reliance on a criminal case dealing with in-court identification was inapposite because an action for involuntary mental health treatment is a civil action.  The patient also argued that A.R.S. § 36-539(B), which requires that two acquaintances of the patient testify at the hearing, implied a requirement for in-court identification. The Court rejected this argument, however, stating that not only could no such requirement be found in the statute or its legislative history, but also that such a reading would be inconsistent with A.R.S. § 36-539(C), which allows courts to conduct a hearing in the absence of the patient and with previous precedent allowing telephonic testimony in such treatment hearings. The Court concluded by pointing out that the patient never asserted that she was not the person who was the subject of the petition and that there was sufficient evidence for the lower court to find that she was in fact the person who was the subject of the petition.

Judge Johnsen authored the opinion; Judges Kessler and Winthrop concurred.