Register v. State, 946 So.2d 50 (Fla. 1st DCA Dec 15, 2006)

The Florida law covering both voluntary and involuntary treatment for mentally ill persons is Chapter 394 of Florida Statutes: known as the Florida Mental Health Act or the Baker ActAs with contested guardianship proceedings, the due process issues in these cases are thorny to say the least.    In the linked-to case the 1st DCA reversed a trial court’s involuntary inpatient placement of a mentally ill person because the trial court had failed to "certify through proper inquiry" that counsel’s waiver of the patient’s presence at the commitment hearing "was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary."

Here’s how the 1st DCA explained its ruling:

A patient has a fundamental right to be present at a commitment proceeding. Joehnk v. State, 689 So.2d 1179, 1180 (Fla. 1st DCA 1997). While a patient may waive his or her right to be personally present and be constructively present through counsel, a court must certify through proper inquiry that the waiver is knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. Id. Furthermore, a denial of the due process right to be present at an involuntary commitment hearing is fundamental error which may be raised on appeal even if not preserved below. See Ibur v. State, 765 So.2d 275, 276 (Fla. 1st DCA 2000) (holding that a denial of the due process right to be heard prior to the deprivation of one’s liberty is fundamental error).

Because the court below did not certify through proper inquiry that the waiver was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary, we reverse and remand for a new commitment hearing.