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Involuntary Mental Health Treatment Requires Showing of Likely Deterioration and Dangerousness Within the Near Future

In In Re T.S.S, 2015 VT 55 (April 10, 2015), the Vermont Supreme Court rejected the trial court’s interpretation of 18 V.S.A. 7101(16) regarding an order of involuntary mental health treatment.

Issue: Petitioner T.S.S. challenged the state’s interpretation of 18 V.S.A. 7101(16), specifically regarding the requirement that a person must become a “person in need of treatment” in the “near future” rather than an unspecified time in the future.

Holding: Before ordering involuntary mental health treatment, the State must show by clear and convincing evidence that, if current treatment is discontinued, there is a substantial probability that in the near future the person’s condition will deteriorate and in the near future the person will become a “person in need of treatment,” as defined by statute. The Court interpreted Section 1701(16) to mean that “in the near future” applies both to “deterioration” and to “becom[ing] a person in need of treatment.” The State argued that “in the near future” applied only to deterioration, not to dangerousness, but the Court rejected this argument based upon statutory interpretation and legislative history.

Concurrence: Eaton, J. filed a short concurrence regarding the majority’s reliance on legislative history. Specifically, he stated that reliance on legislative history was not necessary for the statutory interpretation reached, and that witness testimony before a legislative committee should generally be given little value.

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