Linburn, Geoffrey E.
Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. 1998; 26(3): 343-351.
The Supreme Court decision O'Connor v. Donaldson (1975) has been widely interpreted to assert that dangerousness is a constitutional requirement for civil commitment. This interpretation is a misreading of the decision, which actually addressed the conditions disallowing indefinite, involuntary custodial confinement and not the requirements for an initial commitment. An excessive reliance on dangerousness narrowly construed as a restrictive requirement for civil commitment has distorted the commitment process by emphasizing the state's police power in protecting the public at the expense of its parens patriae responsibility to provide care and treatment for the severely mentally ill. In reality, the Court has been remarkably cautious in addressing the justifications for civil commitment and has allowed room for a broader interpretation of legitimate justifications that would permit greater latitude in the treatment of the severely mentally ill.