For individuals who have been subjected to an involuntary mental health commitment under the Mental Health Procedures Act, there may be collateral consequences of that commitment. First of all, such a commitment prevents an individual from possession of or purchase of a firearm. Secondly, the record may become available in the even the individual applies for a security clearance or certain professional licenses and other types of employment.
There is a process by which an involuntary mental health commitment can be expunged. An individual may petition for expungement of the records of the commitment by filing a petition to ask the court to review the sufficiency of the evidence upon which the commitment was based. If the evidence is sufficient, the commitment records provided to the Pennsylvania State Police shall be expunged.
While the law provided for such an expungement proceeding, courts and practitioners were left with questions as to how the law would be applied and how the court would determine the sufficiency of the evidence. In the matter of In re Vencil, decided January 19, 2017, the petitioner requested expungement of a mental health commitment. The trial court denied the petition, but the Superior Court held that Ms. Vencil was entitled to a de novo hearing, and that clear and convincing evidence to support the commitment must be presented.
The Pennsylvania State Police appealed this decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which reversed the Superior Court and clarified the legal standard for an expungement, by stating:
“The trial court’s review is limited to the findings recorded by the physician and the information he or she relied upon in arriving at those findings, and requires deference to the physician, as the original factfinder, as the physician examined and evaluated the individual in the first instance, was able to observe his or her demeanor, and has particularized training, knowledge and experience regarding whether a 302 commitment is medically necessary.”
This standard seems to limit the review to whether the physician’s decision was reasonable based on the information available to the physician at the time of the examination, and does not seem to allow for extrinsic evidence to be considered.
However, there may be relief available to an individual who is precluded from possession of a firearm in the form of a petition to restore firearm rights, which may be granted if the individual can prove to the court he or she may possess a firearm without risk to self or others.
If you or a love one have been the subject of an involuntary commitment, you may have a question about your rights and whether the records can be expunged. Contact an experienced attorney at the Mazza Law Group, who will discuss your case confidentially to determine whether you may be entitled to some relief.