CRIMINAL LAW / HEALTH LAW
Supreme Court of Alaska (2022)
In Matter of A.S., 2022 WL 2965545 (Alaska 2022) (unpublished), the supreme court held that the testimony of a psychiatrist concerning a criminal defendant’s previous acts of violence and psychotic disorder provided adequate evidence that the defendant posed a harm to themselves or others, and could be the basis for involuntary commitment. (Id. at 2–3). Criminal defendant A.S. was hospitalized and underwent a psychiatric evaluation after being arrested on suspicion of physically assaulting a family member. (Id. at 1). After A.S. spent a week in psychiatric care at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API), API petitioned the superior court for an order authorizing commitment of A.S. for 30 days. (Id.). API called one of its psychiatrists as the only witness in support of commitment. (Id.). The psychiatrist testified that A.S. had a psychotic disorder: he rambled in conversation, threatened API staff, had delusions about death, and suffered auditory hallucinations. (Id.). The psychiatrist also spoke of an incident in which A.S. attacked API staff, punching one staff member three times and putting another in a chokehold. (Id.). The psychiatrist believed that this violence stemmed from A.S.’s mental illness, as he was unable to respond to de-escalation attempts. (Id.). The superior court ordered that A.S. be committed to API for up to 30 days. (Id.). A.S. appealed, arguing that the psychiatrist’s statements did not provide enough detail for the court to make the decision to commit him to API on the basis that he was likely to cause harm and gravely disabled. (Id. at 2). The supreme court affirmed the lower court’s decision, reasoning that the psychiatrist provided testimony specific enough to justify commitment. (Id. at 3). The supreme court explained that a violent assault on API staff members alone meets the threshold of substantial risk of harm to others that a court must find before committing an individual to a psychiatric institution. (Id.). Affirming the lower court’s decision, the supreme court held that the testimony of a psychiatrist concerning a criminal defendant’s previous acts of violence and psychotic disorder provided adequate evidence that the defendant was a harm to himself or others, and could be the basis for involuntary commitment. (Id. at 2–3).