In Re MH 2008-002596 – 10/20/2009

October 26, 2009

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds There is No Requirement for a Minimum Number of Encounters or Time of Acquaintance to Qualify as an Acquaintance Witness in a Hearing for Involuntary Mental Health Treatment.

A petition was filed seeking involuntary mental health treatment for the appellant, who had a history of substance abuse and had been receiving psychiatric treatment since 1990. The appellant had called the Crisis Recovery Network explaining that he had consumed alcohol and overdosed on a variety of prescription medications. Under A.R.S. § 36-539(B), “two or more witnesses acquainted with the patient at the time of the alleged mental disorder” must testify at a hearing for involuntary treatment. Pursuant to this requirement, the Crisis Specialist who spoke with the appellant on the phone (identified by the court as E.G.) testified regarding their phone conversation. The court found that the appellant was suffering from a mental disorder and was a danger to himself. It ordered that he undergo inpatient and outpatient treatment for up to a year.

The patient appealed the court’s decision, arguing that E.G. did not qualify as an acquaintance witness because their contact was limited to one fifteen-minute conversation by telephone. The Arizona Appeals Court affirmed the treatment order, holding that there was no statutory requirement for a minimum level of frequency of contact to qualify as an acquaintance witness and that the witness only needs to be acquainted with the patient at the time of the mental disorder. The Court held that the only requirements applicable to acquaintance witnesses are those that are generally applicable to witnesses. The Court thus held that an acquaintance witness must have personal knowledge relevant to the issue at hand, which in this case was “whether the patient has the mental defect alleged.” Because E.G. fulfilled these requirements, the Court held that she was qualified under the statute to testify as an acquaintance.

Judge Barker authored the opinion; Judges Johnsen and Portley concurred.