Leesburg Mental Illness Lawyer
Our firm’s founder, John C. Whitbeck, Jr. Esquire, has developed a successful and important part of our firm’s practice in the area of mental illness law. Mr. Whitbeck is not only an adjunct professor of mental illness law at George Mason University Law School, but he is also the director of the George Mason University Law and Mental Illness Clinic and has been featured and quoted in the media on mental illness-related issues. Mr. Whitbeck is also a former special justice (judge) for proceedings to commit mentally ill individuals to psychiatric treatment. Contact our Leesburg mental illness lawyers today.
The area of mental illness law is composed of cases involving the emergency commitment of mentally ill individuals to psychiatric treatment, the appointment of fiduciaries as guardians and conservators for mentally ill individuals and the emergency authorization of medical treatment for mentally ill individuals. In addition, mental illness issues permeate into almost every other area of law in which our firm practices, but most definitely in the areas of family law and criminal law. Our firm is not only prepared to represent individuals in mental illness law cases but also in family law cases, criminal cases and other cases where the mental illness of one of the parties is a particularly important issue. As such, our firm’s mental illness law practice is divided into many different segments which are described below. Let our Leesburg & Loudoun County mental illness lawyers help you.
Family Law, Criminal Law & Other Cases Involving Mental Illness Issues
Mental illness issues permeate many other cases and oftentimes are the chief cause behind individuals getting divorced, getting charged with a crime and many other crisis situations. Very often a person can trace the cause of their legal problems back to their own mental illness or the mental illness issues of their family members, friends or business associates. Contact our Leesburg mental illness lawyers for more information.
Mental illness is a very important issue in family law cases. Virginia has a collection of statutes which direct a judge how to determine child custody, child support, the distribution of property and spousal support. Every one of these statutes contains a requirement that the judge evaluate the mental condition of the parties involved. As such, it is very important that your attorney understand mental illness and the impact it has on a client’s case. It is also very important that your attorney have the relationships and experience in dealing with mental health professionals to further a client’s case. If your attorney has these qualifications, he or she can not only assist you in cases where the opposing party is mentally ill, but he or she can also assist you in your family law case if you suffer from a mental illness.
Mental illness is also a very important issue in criminal law cases. While it is very difficult to defeat a criminal charge because a person suffers from a mental illness, there are many cases where such an illness can directly affect whether or not a person will be found guilty of a particular charge. Even more common is the impact mental illness has on the ultimate punishment a person faces, which can many times be lessened by presenting evidence of the person suffering from a mental illness, and how the illness impacts their life and their behavior.
Our firm’s founder, John Whitbeck, has developed a large part of his practice representing individuals in family law and criminal cases where one or more of the individuals suffer from a mental illness. In family law cases, Mr. Whitbeck has extensive experience representing individuals in cases where his client is facing an opposing party suffering from a mental illness as well as representing individuals who suffer from a mental illness. In criminal cases, Mr. Whitbeck represents individuals who suffer from a mental illness and are charged with crimes, and has also represented individuals who are attempting to utilize the criminal justice system to obtain mental health assistance for their family and friends. There are many other types of cases where mental illness issues can play a prominent role. Our firm’s attorneys have experience handling such cases, and examples of these include: contesting wills and other estate documents where mental illness was involved, contesting contracts where mental illness is involved, cases involving mentally ill children and their education, and disability cases involving mental illness.
Commitment of Mentally Ill Individuals
Virginia’s civil commitment system for hospitalizing mentally ill individuals involuntarily is a multi-phase process that requires the services and coordination of several individuals and agencies.
In emergency situations involving a mentally ill individual, a person can contact the emergency services of the particular city or county in which the person is located and ask that they evaluate an individual for possible commitment. If in the mind of the evaluator (usually a social worker or a psychologist) the individual meets the criteria, the evaluator goes to the magistrate to get a temporary detention order. The temporary detention order allows the sheriff’s department or local police force to take the mentally ill individual into custody and transport him or her to whatever hospital has a bed available. A petition is then filed by a family member, friend or other individual familiar with the mentally ill individual to commit the individual. Within 48 hours, the individual is entitled to a hearing as a result of the petition, which takes place in a hospital conference room with an attorney appointed to represent the individual. The individual filing the petition, the “petitioner,” appears and states their evidence at the hearing. Also present at the hearing are a psychologist appointed to evaluate the patient as well as an attorney appointed to represent the patient. If the petitioner proves by clear and convincing evidence that the mentally ill individual will, in the near future, (1) cause serious physical harm to himself or others, or (2) suffer serious harm due to his lack of capacity to protect himself from harm or to provide for his basic human needs, the special justice or judge for the hearing can commit the individual for up to 30 days in the hospital. Contact our Leesburg and Loudoun County mental illness lawyers today.
While all of the aforesaid agencies and services are involved in the process, the critical failure of the system is the lack of services provided to the individual who is serving as the petitioner. In most cases, the petitioner proceeds without an attorney and must litigate an actual legal proceeding to commit the mentally ill individual against an attorney appointed by the court to represent the mentally ill individual. This has oftentimes led to dysfunction within the system and has resulted in many seriously mentally ill individuals not receiving the services they require.
What many individuals do not know is the law allows the petitioner to hire their own attorney to represent them in their efforts to commit the mentally ill individual in the hearing process. When the petitioner appears at the commitment hearing, this oftentimes greatly “levels the playing field” as the mentally ill individual is no longer the only party represented by an attorney.
Our firm’s founder, John Whitbeck, has developed a successful boutique practice in the area of mental illness law, most notably in the representation of petitioners in commitment cases. Mr. Whitbeck has not only litigated hundreds of these cases as an attorney, but he also formerly served as a special justice (judge) for these hearings. Mr. Whitbeck was also the director of the George Mason Law and Mental Illness Clinic, which worked to counter the lack of services for the petitioner by providing pro bono legal representation to petitioners in the commitment hearings.
Guardianships & Conservatorships
Where a person is too mentally ill to make medical decisions for themselves or too mentally ill to manage their financial affairs, a family member, friend or other individual can be appointed to represent the person’s interests as a guardian (health issues) or conservator (financial issues). Contact our Leesburg guardianship & conservatorship lawyers today.
Generally, guardianships and conservatorships are thought to be useful in cases where a person is elderly and are often considered part of an area of law known as “elder law.” However, mental illness permeates all age groups, and a guardianship and conservatorship is useful for individuals of all ages. While a guardianship/conservatorship does not allow you to hospitalize or medicate the individual who suffers from a mental illness, these fiduciary appointments can allow a person to manage all other aspects of a mentally ill person’s life and allows the fiduciary full and complete access to what would otherwise be totally private information.
Our firm has dedicated a portion of its practice to litigating guardianship and conservatorship cases not only in cases involving elderly persons, but also in cases involving individuals of all ages. Oftentimes a guardianship and conservatorship appointment can be a critical tool that can be used by a family member or friend to assist a mentally ill individual, and our Leesburg guardianship and conservatorship attorneys have the experience and competence necessary in assisting clients in these types of cases.
Emergency Authorization of Medical Treatment for the Mentally Ill
In Virginia, a person can be forced to undergo medical treatment if they are too mentally ill to understand that their resistance to such treatment is harmful to them. While these laws do not allow a person to be hospitalized for psychiatric treatment or to be forcibly administered anti-psychotic medication, these laws do assist individuals in getting medical treatment for their family or friends suffering from a mental illness. Our firm has experience in these types of cases and has assisted individuals in obtaining treatment for their mentally ill family or friends in these emergency situations.