ADDINGTON V. TEXAS, 441 U. S. 418 (1979)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Addington v. Texas, 441 U.S. 418 (1979)

Addington v. Texas

No. 77-5992

Argued November 28, 1978

Decided April 30, 1979

441 U.S. 418


Appellant's mother filed a petition for his indefinite commitment to a state mental hospital in accordance with Texas law governing involuntary commitments. Appellant had a long history of confinements for mental and emotional disorders. The state trial court instructed the jury to determine whether, based on "clear, unequivocal and convincing evidence," appellant was mentally ill and required hospitalization for his own welfare and protection or the protection of others. Appellant contended that the trial court should have employed the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard of proof. The jury found that appellant was mentally ill and that he required hospitalization, and the trial court ordered his commitment for an indefinite period. The Texas Court of Appeals reversed, agreeing with appellant on the standard of proof issue. The Texas Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals' decision and reinstated the trial court's judgment, concluding that a "preponderance of the evidence" standard of proof in a civil commitment proceeding satisfied due process, and that, since the trial court's improper instructions in the instant case had benefited appellant, the error was harmless.

Held: A "clear and convincing" standard of proof is required by the Fourteenth Amendment in a civil proceeding brought under state law to commit an individual involuntarily for an indefinite period to a state mental hospital. Pp. 441 U. S. 425-433.

(a) The individual's liberty interest in the outcome of a civil commitment proceeding is of such weight and gravity, compared with the state's interests in providing care to its citizens who are unable, because of emotional disorders, to care for themselves and in protecting the community from the dangerous tendencies of some who are mentally ill, that due process requires the state to justify confinement by proof more substantial than a mere preponderance of the evidence. Pp. 441 U. S. 425-427.

(b) Due process does not require states to use the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard of proof applicable in criminal prosecutions and delinquency proceedings. In re Winship, 397 U. S. 358, distinguished. The reasonable doubt standard is inappropriate in civil commitment proceedings because, given the uncertainties of psychiatric diagnosis, it may impose a burden the state cannot meet, and thereby erect an unreasonable barrier to needed medical treatment. The state should

Page 441 U. S. 419

not be required to employ a standard of proof that may completely undercut its efforts to further the legitimate interests of both the state and the patient that are served by civil commitments. Pp. 441 U. S. 427 431.

(c) To meet due process demands in commitment,proceedings, the standard of proof has to inform the factfinder that the proof must be greater than the "preponderance of the evidence" standard applicable to other categories of civil cases. However, use of the term "unequivocal" in conjunction with the terms "clear and convincing" in jury instructions (as included in the instructions given by the Texas state court in this case) is not constitutionally required, although states are free to use that standard. Pp. 441 U. S. 431-433.

Appeal dismissed and certiorari granted; 557 S.W.2d 511, vacated and remanded.

BURGER, C.J.,delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except POWELL, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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