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In re J.J.

Supreme Court of Montana

July 24, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF: J.J., Respondent and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: January 31, 2018

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eighteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Gallatin, Cause No. DI-16-11C Honorable John C. Brown, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Chad Wright, Appellate Defender, James Reavis, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Micheal S. Wellenstein, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana, Marty Lambert, Gallatin County Attorney, Deborah Pratt, Deputy County Attorney, Bozeman, Montana



         ¶1 This appeal stems from a district court's denial of a motion to be transported from the courtroom to the Montana State Hospital without handcuffs by an individual, who immediately prior to the motion, was involuntarily committed to the Montana State Hospital.

         ¶2 We restate the issue on appeal as follows:

Does Montana law preclude physical restraint of a seriously mentally ill individual during transportation from a courtroom to a hospital or mental health facility?


         ¶3 J.J. is a thirty-year-old-man with diabetes. As a child, J.J. was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder - I. Both conditions require J.J. to take daily medication. In May 2016, J.J. was seen by the Gallatin County crisis response team eight times in six days, admitted to the Bozeman Deaconess Hospital emergency room four times in seven days, and had discharged himself from Hope House, a local support program. During his repeated appearances at the hospital J.J. became agitated by other patients and made numerous non-specific threats, one specific threat to kill the guy in the next room, and told nearby officers to just shoot him. In the emergency room J.J. was seen by David Powell, LCSW/MHP, a member of the crisis response team. Powell performed mental health evaluations on J.J. on May 14 and 17, 2016. Powell determined that, based upon his symptoms, J.J. was suffering from "Bipolar I disorder, severe with psychosis," noting that he was "obviously very manic," had "pressured speech," had "very erratic changes in topic" when speaking, and was delusional. Upon discharge from the hospital and Hope House, J.J. was provided a multi-day supply of his medication for both of his conditions. He either lost them or did not take them.

         ¶4 At Powell's request, on May 17, 2017, the Gallatin County Attorney's Office filed a petition for involuntary commitment. In an affidavit attached to the petition, Powell asserted that J.J. was a danger to himself and others, and that J.J. was unable to provide for his own basic needs or comprehend the very serious consequences of his failure to take his diabetes medication. The District Court scheduled an evidentiary hearing on the commitment and assigned Adrian Utsch, LCPC/MHP, to conduct an independent examination of J.J. prior to the hearing. After the petition was filed, J.J. fell into a diabetic coma and was again taken to the emergency room. The District Court ordered that J.J. be held at the Montana State Hospital (MSH) until the hearing.

         ¶5 On May 23, 2016, immediately prior to the hearing, J.J. received the court ordered mental health evaluation. Utsch concluded J.J. was suffering from severe and chronic mental illness, that he was a danger to himself or others, and in danger of further decompensation unless he continued to receive treatment. Utsch testified that during the evaluation J.J. was manic and told Utsch that he had heard his father's voice telling him to kill himself but that J.J. had never taken steps to do so. At the hearing, Powell testified that J.J. posed an imminent danger to himself because of his mental disorder. When responding to a question concerning any statements J.J. made concerning self-harm or harm to others, Powell relayed J.J.'s actions in the emergency room where J.J. asked a police officer to shoot him, and threatened another patient.

         ¶6 J.J. and counsel were present at the hearing and objected to any involuntary commitment. The District Court found J.J. to be suffering from Bipolar I Disorder and that he was substantially unable to provide for his own basic health and safety needs. The District Court ordered J.J. involuntarily committed to MSH for a period of no more than three months. After the District Court pronounced its decision, counsel requested J.J. not be handcuffed in the sheriff's vehicle on the way to MSH. The District Court stated, "that goes above and beyond what I can order and I assume, Deputy Murphy, that probably for transport he does have to be restrained, doesn't he, in the vehicle?" Deputy Murphy replied in the affirmative. J.J. protested. The District Court ruled "I can't change the fact you have to be restrained with handcuffs in the car."

         ¶7 J.J. appeals the denial of his request to not be handcuffed.

         STANDARD ...

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