The Oregon Court of Appeals and the State Civil Commitment Statute

By Joseph D Bloom, Juliet Britton, Wil Berry
July 2020


In 1973 the Oregon Legislature passed a major revision of its civil commitment law adopting changes that mirrored those taking place across the United States. The new sections offered significant protections of the rights of individuals who are alleged to have mental illness, a limitation on the length of commitment, the adoption of both dangerousness and gravely disabled type commitment criteria and the adoption of “beyond a reasonable doubt” as the standard of proof for commitment hearings. From 1973 to the present time, the Oregon Court of Appeals adjudicated a large number of appeals emanating from civil commitment courts. This article is based on a review of 98 written Oregon Court of Appeals commitment decisions from the years 1998 through 2015 and is accompanied by a review of legislative intent in 1973. It appears that the court of appeals has significantly altered the 1973 legislative changes by moving the dangerousness criteria to imminence and the gravely disabled criteria to a focus on survival. Empirically, civil commitment has dramatically decreased in Oregon over a 40-year period and the case law, as developed by Oregon Court of Appeals, has had a significant contributing role in this reduction.

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