Legal Question in Constitutional Law in Georgia

why aren't statements of suicidal ideation protected by 1st amendment?

particularly when there is no indication of "imminent risk of harm to self or others"?

particularly when suicide isn't illlegal?

why does someone's question of "concern for safety" outweigh another's right of freedom to move autonomously?

Asked on 7/02/12, 5:03 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Edward Hoffman Law Offices of Edward A. Hoffman

Such statements are protected by the First Amendment. The government cannot penalize you for making them, either civilly or criminally, and it cannot forbid them ahead of time. What it can do is take steps to protect you from yourself, and to protect others from you. It can consider those statements when it decides whether to take those steps. The constitution does not require police, paramedics, etc. to pretend they didn't hear when someone threatens suicide.

Such protection usually involves a brief involuntary commitment for a psychiatric evaluation. When the psychiatrists agree that the subject either never was a threat or that the threat was brief, they will release her. Where the threat is more severe, they will try to keep her confined for treatment.

Ordinarily the government can only do this when there may be imminent risk of harm to the person or to others. Your question presumes that this isn't true. But the fact that *you* don't see any such indication does not mean there is none -- particularly if you're the speaker.

Sometimes people are taken in for involuntary screening when they shouldn't be. That does not mean the entire system is unconstitutional or even that it is wrongheaded. It just means that somebody made a mistake. There may be remedies when this happens, depending on the circumstances.

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Answered on 7/02/12, 5:35 pm

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