Right to counsel

Key_development Question_mark

Legislation, Civil Commitment

While Alaska Stat. § 47.30.725(d) speaks of a right to be “represented by an attorney” in civil commitment proceedings, other statutory provisions clarify that this is a right to appointed counsel.  First, Alaska Stat. § 18.85.100(a) (the public defender statute) provides a right to counsel to an indigent person “against whom commitment proceedings for mental illness have been initiated.”  Second, during the initial involuntary commitment procedures, upon petition by any adult, the court must first order a screening investigation, and within 48 hours after completion of that screening, the court must appoint counsel if the court finds probable cause of mental illness.  Alaska Stat. § 47.30.700(a).


But where the threat of "serious harm to self or others [is] of such immediate nature that considerations of safety do not allow initiation of involuntary commitment procedures set out in AS 47.30.700," the individual may be detained on an emergency basis at a crisis stabilization center pursuant to Alaska Stat. § 47.30.705(a).  The person may only be detained for a period not to exceed 23 hours and 59 minutes, and must be examined within three hours of their arrival. Id.  If, after the examination, the crisis stabilization center files an ex parte application to detain or evaluate the individual that is granted by the court, the court must appoint an attorney to represent the respondent. Alaska Stat. § 47.30.707(b).

An individual may also be brought to a crisis residential center in an emergency and, after the initial examination, a mental health professional may file an ex parte application for admission if "a judicial order has not been obtained under AS 47.30.707." Alaska Stat. § 47.30.708(c).  If the court finds probable cause and grants the application, it shall appoint an attorney to represent the respondent. Id.

When civil commitment of a minor is sought, the minor's indigent parents have the right to counsel in the proceedings, and representation is provided by the office of public advocacy.  Alaska Stat. § 47.30.775 ("as parties [the minor's parents or guardians] are entitled to retain their own attorney or have the office of public advocacy appointed for them by the court"); Alaska Stat. § 44.21.410(a)(3) ("[t]he office of public advocacy shall ... provide legal representation ... to indigent parents or guardians of a minor respondent in a commitment proceeding concerning the minor under AS 47.30.775.").  The minor respondent in such proceedings also has the right to counsel, since the provision governing commitment of minors incorporates the provisions applicable to adults. Alaska Stat. § 47.30.775 ("The provisions of AS 47.30.700 - 47.30.815 apply to minors.";  "A minor respondent has the same rights to waiver and informed consent as an adult respondent under AS 47.30.660 - 47.30.915; however, the minor shall be represented by counsel in waiver and consent proceedings.").

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no