Right to counsel

Key_development Question_mark

Legislation, Civil Commitment

Adult indigent respondents have the right to counsel in mental health and other commitments, as do some minors in certain commitment matters.  



Indigent respondents have the right to counsel in civil commitment proceedings related to mental health under Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 17a-498(b), as well as in commitment matters related to substance dependency. Gen. Stat. Ann. §17a-685(c).  The right extends to applications to terminate commitment. See Gen. Stat. Ann. §17a-685(l). 

Next, Conn. Stat. § 17a-274(d) provides that where the probate court determines whether to place a person with intellectual disability with the Department of Developmental Services “for placement in any appropriate setting which meets the person’s habilitative needs in the least restrictive environment available or which can be created within existing resources of the department,” the indigent person has a right to counsel. 

As to minors

Mental health commitments of "mentally ill" children are goverened by a separate code section.  An "application for the commitment of a mentally ill child" may be filed by "any person." Conn. Stat. § 17a-76(a).  Under the section, a "child" means any person less than sixteen years of age. Conn. Stat. § 17a-75.

Minor respondents in such matters have a right to counsel. See Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 17a-77(a) (providing that court must appoint counsel for commitment of mentally ill child and that “Counsel appointed to represent such child shall also be appointed guardian ad litem for such child unless the court deems it appropriate to appoint a separate guardian ad litem.”). 

"Mental disorder" under the provisions is limited to "a mental or emotional condition that has substantial adverse effects on a child's ability to function so as to jeopardize his or her health, safety or welfare or that of others, and specifically excludes intellectual disability." Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 17a-75 (emphasis added).  It is not clear whether commitment may be made under the section due to substance dependency of the minor.  

Notably, even the general provisions governing mental health commitment may be implicated for certain minors who are 16 years of age or older (the age at which a minor can consent to voluntary admission), if the individual has consented to voluntarily committment but later expresses a desire to leave to which someone objects through the filing of a commitment petition. See § 17a-506(e) (governing voluntary admissions and associated procedures); see also § 17a-495 (defining "voluntary patient").

A "voluntary patient," in addition to encompassing consenting patients 16 years of age or older, includes "any patient under sixteen years of age whose parent or legal guardian applies in writing to such hospital for admission of such patient."  Because no provisions in the general mental health commitment code (Section 17a-495, et seq.) expressly state that a minor younger than 16 is able to object to an admission to which their parent or legal guardian consented (which might trigger a right to counsel), these individuals presumably do not have the right to counsel.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no