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Thursday, May 30, 2024 | Back issues
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Indefinite Commitment in Florida Struck Down

(CN) - Florida cannot indefinitely commit intellectually disabled persons convicted of a crime to a residential group home, the Eleventh Circuit ruled.

The Thursday ruling comes in the federal appeals court's review of claims by an intellectually disabled man identified only as J.R.

Prosecutors charged J.R. with sexual battery in 2000, but, with an IQ of 56 - the functional level of a 7 year old - J.R. was ruled incompetent to stand trial and involuntarily committed to the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.

Florida did not set an end date for J.R.'s commitment at the residential group home, which imposes a curfew of 10 p.m., forbids him to drink alcohol, and requires him to inform staff exactly where he is going, why and when he will return.

J.R. sued the APD in 2011, claiming that Florida has violated his due-process rights by keeping him indefinitely committed in a residential state home.

A federal judge ruled the practice constitutional, resting its holding on a finding that the statute contains an implicit requirement that the APD petition the court to order a committed person's release if that person no longer meets admission criteria.

But when the 11th Circuit asked for input from the state's highest judicial authority, the Florida Supreme Court said the federal judge was mistaken - Florida law does not require the APD to review the continuing commitment of intellectually disabled persons.

Based on the Florida Supreme Court's clarification, a quorum of the 11th Circuit ruled the practice unconstitutional Thursday.

"Section 393.11 is constitutionally infirm because it does not require periodic review of continued involuntary commitment by a decision-maker with the duty to consider and the authority to order release," Judge Beverly Martin wrote, joined by Judge Judge Peter Fay.

The Atlanta-based appeals court rejected APD's argument that the support-plan review process satisfies the required periodic review.

"There is no requirement that the support-plan review consider the second criterion: whether a person is dangerous to himself or others," the 22-page opinion states. "So a committed person may cease to meet this second criterion but languish under continued commitment because the support plan does not address it."

The panel noted that J.R.'s potential for dangerousness can change, even with his very low IQ.

"What happens if J.R. stops being dangerous?" Martin asked. "The APD is under no obligation to consider whether he is no longer dangerous and, if he is not, release him or even recommend release to the circuit court."

Though sympathetic to Florida's interest in involuntarily committing the intellectually disabled to assist them live independently, Martin said "we cannot sanction the state's methods."

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