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AGLO 1971 No. 134 - December 13, 1971
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington
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                                                               December 13, 1971
 
 
 
Honorable John B. Rabel
State Representative, 43rd District
5308 N.E. 43rd
Seattle, Washington 98105
                                                                                          Cite as:  AGLO 1971 No. 134 (not official)
 
 
Dear Sir:
 
            We are in receipt of your letter requesting our opinion as to the proper interpretation to be given to the term "mentally ill person" as defined in RCW 71.02.010 relating to commitment proceedings.
 
            The definition of "mentally ill person," as set forth in this statute, reads as follows:
 
            "'Mentally ill person' shall mean any person found to be suffering from psychosis or other disease impairing his mental health, and the symptoms of such disease are of a suicidal, homicidal, or incendiary nature, or of such nature which would render such person dangerous to his own life or to the lives or property of others."
 
            The critical significance of this definition, in terms of the authority of the court to commit an individual to a state institution for the mentally ill, will be seen from the following language of RCW 71.02.200:
 
            "If the court shall find after hearing and examination that the person filed against is mentally ill, it shall enter an order directing the hospitalization of such person pursuant to RCW 71.02.240."  (Emphasis supplied.)
 
            Your question, as we understand it, is whether a person found to be suffering from psychosis, as distinguished from some other disease impairing his mental health, may be committed as a mentally ill person without a further finding that,
 
            ". . . the symptoms of such disease are of a suicidal, homicidal, or incendiary nature, or of such nature which would render such person dangerous to his own life or to the lives or property of others."
 
             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
                                                                     ANALYSIS
 
            We believe that this question is clearly answerable in the negative.  The phrase "such disease," as used in the last quoted portion of the definition of "mentally ill person," clearly refers, in our judgment, to the entire preceding phrase; i.e., "psychosis or other disease impairing his mental health,".
 
            We reach this conclusion, essentially, because of the punctuation which the legislature has used.  Had it intended to allow commitments for psychosis alone, without regard to the symptoms of that particular disease, the legislature seemingly would have placed a comma, after the "psychosis" instead of after "mental health" ‑ and it then would have rewritten the remainder of the stature so as to refer only to the symptoms of a disease other than psychosis.  In other words, had the legislature intended this result instead of that which we have here reached, it seemingly would have written the statute to read as follows:
 
            "'Mentally ill person' shall mean any person found to be suffering from the symptoms of psychosis, or other disease impairing his mental health the symptoms of which are of a suicidal, homicidal, or incendiary nature, or of such nature which would render such person dangerous to his own life or to the lives or property of others."
 
            However, this is simply not what the statute, in its present form, says.  Therefore, by way of summary, we answer your question as follows:
 
            In order to be a "mentally ill person" as defined in RCW 71.02.010, both of the following two conditions must be found with regard to the individual in question:
 
            (1) That he is suffering from psychosis or some other disease impairing his mental health; and
 
            (2) That the symptoms of such disease, whether it be psychosis or some other mental disease, are of a suicidal, homicidal, or incendiary nature, or of such nature which would render such person dangerous to his own life or to the lives or property of others.
 
             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]
            It is hoped that the following will be of some assistance to you.
 
Very truly yours,
 
FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
 
 
Philip H. Austin
Deputy Attorney General
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