In the Matter of PAC

In the Matter of PAC, 2013 MT 84 (April 2, 2013) (5-0) (McGrath, C.J.)

Issue: Whether the district court obtained a proper waiver from PAC or her attorney before allowing her to be voluntarily absent from her commitment hearing.

Short Answer: No.


Facts: In July 2012, PAC went to the emergency room in Helena and was voluntarily admitted to the Behavioral Health Unit. She was engaged in disruptive and threatening behavior, and was transferred to the Montana State Hospital. The state petitioned for PAC’s commitment to the state hospital for 90 days. PAC made her initial court appearance via video conferencing. The district court appointed counsel and informed her of her rights. PAC asked the court to explain a “72-hour police hold.” The court said it would not answer questions, ordered an evaluation, and set the commitment hearing for the next day. PAC was transported to Helena the next day. She did not cooperate with the evaluation, asserting nothing was wrong with her and she only needed alcohol and marijuana.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Although PAC was in the courthouse, she did not appear at the commitment hearing. PAC’s attorney told the court that she had met with PAC and informed her of all of her rights, including the right to be present, and PAC had declined. The district court proceeded with the hearing, and ordered commitment for not more than 90 days. PAC appeals, and the Supreme Court reverses.

Reasoning: While PAC’s attorney could inform the district court of PAC’s waiver of her right to be present at the hearing, the court should have made further inquiry to determine whether PAC was capable of making an intentional and knowing decision. The court and the parties must make a record that the person sought to be committed is capable of making a knowing and intelligent waiver of her rights.