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Legislative Notes


In April 1980, the Ohio General Assembly enacted Senate Bill 297. The bill was promulgated to provide specific changes in the procedures for the civil commitment and release hearings of persons found not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI). This legislation was enacted as an emergency measure in response to increasing public unrest over the release of NGRI patients. Much of the concern was seemingly precipitated by recent, well publicized trials in which the defendants pled not guilty by reason of insanity following charges of murder. The new bill was designed to correct procedural flaws in the present insanity law and insure public safety by holding the court in which the defendant was found NGRI responsible for commitment and release hearings. This procedure attempts to insure greater public safety by giving the court which is most familiar with the case and is most accountable to the people of the county where the criminal act was committed, the authority to make the decision regarding the NGRI patient’s release.

Among the most important changes the bill makes are: 1) the change of jurisdiction of commitment and release hearings for persons found NGRI from the probate court to the trial court in which the person was found NGRI; 2) allowing the original prosecutor, at any commitment or release hearing, the opportunity to argue that the person is still mentally ill or mentally retarded and in need of hospitalization or institutionalization; 3) prohibiting a person found NGRI from being able to voluntarily admit, and subsequently discharge, himself from hospitalization; and 4) giving the trial court the power to monitor the progress of the NGRI patient and retain control over him by allowing conditional release programs.

The Ohio legislature has responded to the deficiencies in prior law by enacting S.B. 297. In the words of Senator M. Morris Jackson, prime sponsor of the legislation, “[I]t will close glaring loopholes in the present insanity law. It will insure public safety and guarantee an NGRI patient due process and appropriate aftercare treatment. It is a legislative step long overdue.”

The following discussion will examine in detail the procedural model which the law establishes for the civil commitment process, the aforementioned changes which S.B. 297 effectuates, and the possible constitutional questions arising from this legislation. The analysis will begin with a brief look at the insanity defense.

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