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Legislative Notes


In criminal prosecutions, a defendant may be involuntarily committed to a mental hospital through either of two generally accepted procedures. The most prevalent of these is the involuntary commitment of a criminal defendant who, before being fully tried, is preliminarily adjudged incompetent to stand trial. Greater notoriety, however, has been gained by commitment procedures initiated through the defense of insanity. Successful establishment of an insanity defense will provide for the acquittal and subsequent commitment of a defendant by reason of his mental condition at the time of the criminal act. Thus, the removal of a mentally ill defendant from the criminal process is the laudable objective which accords legitimacy to these compulsory confinement procedures. Nevertheless, involuntary commitment proceedings, which can result in potentially prolonged incarceration, may violate a defendant’s constitutional rights unless state statutory provisions provide adequate procedural safeguards.

In 1978, the Ohio Legislature enacted House Bill 565. The bill establishes the procedures for determining whether a defendant is incompetent to stand trial and whether he is not guilty by reason of insanity. In addition, procedures are outlined for the treatment and hospitalization of a defendant who is ultimately found incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity.

Although Ohio's previous commitment procedures were not judicially decreed unconstitutional, they appeared to manifest several constitutional infirmities. H.B. 565 is designed to alleviate the constitutional deficiencies found in the former statute by providing detailed procedures and necessary time constraints to protect the civil liberties of mentally ill defendants. Section 2945.37, for example, requires a full hearing to be held before a criminal defendant may be committed as incompetent to stand trial. Sections 2945.371, 2945.38, and 2945.39, in pertinent parts, provide for out-patient care of a defendant whose mental condition needs to be clinically examined in order to evaluate competency to stand trial or sanity during the commission of the crime. Finally, the most significant provision is section 2945.38(c), which provides for the civil commitment of defendants found to be incompetent without a substantial likelihood of regaining competency.

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