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Constitutional rights  


These are the most relevant amendments to the US Constitution of most psych patient abuse cases.

First Amendment –  states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."  For a patient to have his or her cellphone and other devices confiscated on involuntary admission is, we believe, a violation of First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, since it makes communication with the world outside the ward inordinately difficult.  It is also difficult for many patients to practice their religion while residing on a locked ward, because they cannot visit their place of worship or meet with fellow adherents.  Intrusive psych ward staff behaviors can offend certain religious groups through their nonsensical requirements, such as touching, drugging and forced removal of clothing.

 

Second Amendment –  right to bear arms.  This is very important to many conservatives, because having been involuntarily committed prevents you from ever holding a firearm again, under a little-known provision of federal law (18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4)).  The ATF documentation is vague about whether this pertains to prior or current commitment, which enables the government to reject applicants if it chooses to do so, without due process.  The law actually states broadly that gun ownership is prohibited for anyone who "has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution". 

 

Fourth Amendment – states "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."  A threshold question in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence is whether a search has occurred. If no search occurred, then the Fourth Amendment does not apply.  The Supreme Court ruled that a search occurs when 1) a person expects privacy in the thing searched and 2) society believes that expectation is reasonable.  Probable cause is "a reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime".  Most psych patients complain that their benign belongings have been confiscated on involuntary admission without notice or explanation, including cellphones and other devices, vehicles, keys, clothing, toiletries and prescription medications.

 

Eighth Amendment –  forbids cruel and unusual punishment.  The United States Supreme Court set the standard in 1972 that a punishment would be considered cruel and unusual if it was too severe for the crime, if it was arbitrary, if it offended society's sense of justice, or if it was not more effective than a less severe penalty.  Since battery and forcible drugging are practiced widely in psych wards, one might argue that the 8th amendment would apply.

 

Thirteenth Amendment –  safeguards Americans from peonage. The Thirteenth Amendment states (1) Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction, and (2) Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.  Involuntary servitude refers to a person being held by actual force, threats of force, or threats of legal coercion in a condition of slavery – compulsory service or labor against his or her will.  This includes the condition in which people are compelled to work by a "climate of fear" evoked by the use of force, the threat of force, or the threat of legal coercion (i.e., suffer legal consequences unless compliant with demands made upon them) which is sufficient to compel service.  Since private psychiatric hospitals make money from detaining patients involuntarily, often with handsome profits, one could argue that this should be considered peonage.

 

Fourteenth Amendment – right not to be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.  The Supreme Court said this requires consideration of three distinct factors: (1) “the private interest that will be affected by the official action;” (2) “the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards”; and (3) the Government's involvement.  Along with the 4th Amendment, this is the most commonly violated Constitutional right in psych wards.  Patients are frequently denied due process when they are involuntarily admitted.  Mental health attorneys are supposed to be assigned immediately to advise such patients, but often arrive days to weeks late, or not at all.  Patients are also frequently denied court hearings to which they are entitled by law.

 

 

[this information is current to the best of our knowledge as of 2/14]