Chapter 15 - Judicial Commitment of Mentally Ill or Deficient

Chapter 15 - Judicial Commitment of Mentally Ill or Deficient

13.1501 Diagnosis, treatment and care of mental illness or deficiency.


The diagnosis, treatment, and care of persons suffering from mental illness or deficiency shall be carried out in a manner and in places designated by the Director of Health or his designee. When commitment for mental illness or deficiency is indicated, person may be committed under 13.1502. In the event of commitment, it shall be the responsibility of the Director to insure an on-going program of medical and psychiatric treatment as required for the patient’s disability.

13.1502 Commitment of mentally ill or deficient person—Notification procedure and emergency commitment procedure.


The trial division of the High Court may, after a hearing, involuntarily commit a mentally ill or deficient person within its jurisdiction to designated places for the care and treatment of those persons in the Territory. That person may thereafter be restrained to the extent necessary and reasonable for his own safety and that of the public. The hearing shall be held within 4 court days from completion of the following notification procedures:

(a) The person or persons petitioning the Court shall complete a certificate of need for emergency commitment. This certificate shall state the reasons for the need for emergency commitment. The certificate shall be completed and a copy shall be given as quickly as reasonably possible to the following:

(1) the person to be committed;

(2) the physician involved for inclusion as a portion of the permanent medical record; and

(3) the clerk of the trial division of the High Court.

(b) No further action may be taken to confine the person without the completion of a certificate of medical need for commitment by a physician authorized to practice medicine within the Territory. This certificate shall state the medical indications for emergency commitment. After completion of the certificate of medical need for commitment by the physician, the person may be confined as an emergency for safekeeping and treatment. The Director shall designate the places for the care and treatment of any person so confined. A copy of this certificate shall be given as quickly as reasonably possible to the following:

(1) the person to be committed;

(2) the physician involved for inclusion as a portion of the permanent medical record; and

(3) the clerk of the trial division of the High Court.

(c) No person may be confined for longer than 72 hours as an emergency. Within 72 hours a second certificate of medical need for commitment shall be completed by a physician and a medical officer, one of whom shall be of Samoan heritage and who speaks the Samoan language, who shall have conducted an independent interview of the individual. In the event they do not concur in their recommendation of whether or not commitment is necessary, the opinion of a third qualified doctor shall be sought and the recommendation of the majority shall prevail. Upon completion of the second certificate of medical need for commitment by another physician, the person may be confined until the trial division of the High Court holds a commitment hearing not to be more than 4 court days from completion and receipt by the court of the second certificate of medical need. A copy of the second certificate of medical need for commitment shall be given as quickly as reasonably possible to the following:

(1) the person to be committed;

(2) the physician involved for inclusion as a portion of the permanent medical record; and

(3) the clerk of the trial division of the High Court.

(d) Failure to comply with any of the time limits established above shall be grounds for immediate unconditional release of the person so confined.

13.1503 Commitment hearing.


A commitment hearing shall be held, and shall require the testimony in open court of the following:

(1) the person or persons completing the certificate of need for emergency commitment;

(2) the physicians who completed the first and second certificates of medical need for commitment;

(3) the person about whom the court is considering commitment; and

(4) any other person or persons considered necessary by the court.

13.1504 Causes for commitment.


(a) Mental illness or deficiency are not of themselves sufficient cause for involuntary confinement under this chapter. Only the following are specific causes for commitment:

(1) danger to others;

(2) danger to self; and

(3) inability to care for self to such a degree as to make continual care necessary.

(b) If the person to be committed is being committed due to the need for continual care and not because he is dangerous to himself or others, then all reasonable steps should be taken to attempt placement in the home of a responsible family member or friend.

(c) Upon satisfaction of the court by clear and convincing evidence that specific cause exists for commitment, the Court shall make an order as it considers in the best interest of the public and of the committed person for that person’s custody and transportation to the place of commitment. However, a commitment may not issue unless the court is satisfied that all reasonable alternatives short of commitment have been pursued and found to be ineffective.

13.1505 Right to counsel.


(a) At all stages of the commitment process, commencing with the second certificate of medical need for commitment and until ultimate release from commitment, the person about whom the court is considering commitment shall be represented by legal counsel, either of his own choosing at his own cost, or counsel appointed by the court. The court shall make the appointment at the time of calendaring the commitment hearing, and may appoint either private counsel or the public defender’s office. Private counsel if appointed shall be reimbursed by the court in a reasonable amount. Counsel shall have access to any and all records pertaining to the hearing before the court and to the medical history of his client. In the event counsel deems it necessary, he shall have the right to continue the commitment hearing in the interest of his client, and shall have the right to introduce the testimony and exhibits on his client’s behalf anew.

(b) The person to be committed shall have the right to be present at all times during the hearing process; provided, however, that he may be excused if the court is satisfied from preliminary testimony of a psychiatrist that the defendant would be harmed by hearing some of the testimony, or if the defendant is so violent that he cannot be restrained during the hearing.

(c) He shall have the right to subpoena witnesses of his own choice.

(d) He shall have the right of cross examination.

(e) The burden of proof lies with the persons seeking commitment, and no commitment shall issue without clear and convincing proof of the need therefor.

13.1506 Transfers.


Persons committed under this chapter may be transferred to institutions outside of the Territory considered suitable for their care by order of the Director. If a transfer is effectuated, the provisions of 13.1507 shall be suspended and review of necessity for commitment shall be in accordance with the legal requirements of the jurisdiction to which the committed person is sent.

13.1507 Periodic review.


At 9-month intervals following the date of original commitment, review hearings shall be had before the trial division of the High Court. No more than 10 days prior to all hearings the person committed shall be independently examined by at least 2 physicians or medical practitioners, and the hearing shall be conducted in accordance with all the provisions of this chapter including those included in 13.1503, 13.1504, and 13.1505.

13.1508 Release.


The physician in charge of places designated for the treatment of mentally ill or deficient persons may be any time and without the necessity of a review hearing release the person with termination of commitment when in his judgment the specific cause for commitment no longer exists, with exception: if the person is being held on order of a Court having criminal jurisdiction in a proceeding arising out of a criminal offense, he may not be released.

13.1509 Apprehension.


Persons who have been committed under this chapter who are absent on leave or escape from the place to which they have been committed, may upon direction of the person in charge of that place of commitment be returned by policemen, or officials or employees of that place of commitment, using force as may be reasonably necessary to effect the return.

13.1510 Civil rights and competency.


A presumption of legal incompetency shall exist with respect to any person committed under this chapter. The fact of the commitment shall not otherwise itself modify or vary any civil right of the person committed.