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AGO 1951 No. 033 - May 03, 1951
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

DETENTION WARDS FOR INSANITY SUSPECTS.

Section 28, chapter 139, Laws of 1951, confers no authority upon a superior court to designate a state hospital as the county detention ward for mental illness suspects.

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                                                                    May 3, 1951

Honorable Hugh H. Evans
Prosecuting Attorney
Spokane County
Spokane 11, Washington                                                                                            Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 33

Dear Sir:

            Your letter of April 24, 1951, reads in part as follows:

            "Spokane County maintains no county hospital, * * * Section 28 of Chapter 139 of the Laws of 1951, effective June 7th, 1951, provides that 'in all counties having no county hospital, the court may designate as a detention ward such other place of detention and treatment as he may deem suitable for the purpose of this act.'

            "The Judges of Spokane County have manifested a desire to designate a section of the Eastern State Hospital as a detention ward.  * * *

            "In your opinion, is Chapter 139 of the Laws of 1951 sufficient authority to make such a designation?"

            Our summarized conclusion reads:

            Section 28, chapter 139, Laws of 1951, confers no authority upon a superior court to designate a state hospital as the county detention ward for mental illness suspects.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]                                                                             

            An advertence to a few rules of statutory construction is necessary to determine whether, pursuant to section 28, supra, a state hospital may be designated "such other place of detention and treatment as * * * may [be deemed] suitable" in the absence of a county hospital.  In the case ofGraffell v. Honeysuckle, 30 Wn. (2d) 390, 191 P. (2d) 858, the following appears:                                                               

            "The fundamental object or purpose of all judicial construction or interpretation is to ascertain, if possible, and to give effect to, the intention of the lawmakers in enacting the particular statute.  * * *

            "* * * the first resort of the courts is to the context and subject matter of the legislation, because the intention of the lawmaker is to be deduced, if possible, from what it said.  * * *"

            Patently, it was the intention of the legislature in enacting section 28,supra, to provide a place of temporary detention for one alleged to be mentally ill.  This place of detention for observation purposes is to be chosen by the court when there is no county hospital.  As section 28,supra, in no wise limits the discretion of the court, it would seem, upon first impression, that the court of Spokane County has authority to designate The Eastern State Hospital as the county's place of temporary detention.  However, the literal meaning of a statute need not be followed where it is clear that the legislature intended to use the words in a different sense.  Groves v. Meyers, 35 Wn. (2d) 403, 213 P. (2d) 483; Featherstone v. Dessert, 173 Wash. 264, 22 P. (2d) 1050.

            Section 29, chapter 139, supra, provides:

            "Personsfound to be mentally ill by the courts * * * and in need of hospitalization at a statehospital shall be hospitalized at * * * state hospitals:  * * *."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Thus, two prerequisites are set forth for the commitment of involuntary patients to a state hospital:  (1) the court must find the person to be mentally ill; and (2) the mentally ill person must be in need of hospitalization at a state hospital.  We note that there is no authorization in the whole of chapter 139, supra, for the hospitalization at a state hospital of those involuntary  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] patients merely suspected of mental illness.  The admittance of such persons would, in view of section 7, chapter 139,supra, lie wholly within the discretion of the superintendent of the state hospital in question and the Department of Public Institutions.

            There is a further reason why the court of Spokane County cannot designate The Eastern State Hospital as the place of temporary detention for mental illness suspects.  The Department of Public Institutions has jurisdiction over all state hospitals.  RCW 72.06.04 [[RCW 72.24.040]]reads in part as follows:

            "The department [of Public Institutions] * * * shall have charge of the general interests of the hospitals and manage and conduct them in such manner as may appear best.  * * *"

            We have been unable to locate a statute delegating to the superior court of a county, jurisdiction over a state hospital.  Under sections 25 and 29, chapter 139, supra, the court may order to a specified state hospital those "found to be mentally ill" and "in need of hospitalization at a state hospital," but even this is restricted by the following (section 29, supra):

            "* * * PROVIDED, HOWEVER, That whenever the department of public institutions shall certify to the superior court of any county that the hospital above specified to receive mentally ill persons from such county is temporarily unable to care for additional patients, and shall designate one of the other hospitals, the court shall order patients hospitalized at such other hospital until further advised by the department:  * * *"

            It would follow that the legislature did not intend section 28,supra, to authorize,ipso facto, the court of Spokane County to designate The Eastern State Hospital as "such other place of detention and treatment as * * * may [be deemed] suitable * * *."  However, we are of the opinion that such designation would be proper should the court secure the consent of the superintendent of The Eastern State Hospital and the Department of Public Institutions.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

ROBERT A. COMFORT
Assistant Attorney General

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