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Deeds Advocates Bill to Extend Emergency Custody Orders - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Deeds Advocates Bill to Extend Emergency Custody Orders

Posted: Updated: Jan 30, 2014 08:26 PM
Senator Creigh Deeds Senator Creigh Deeds

The fight to fix Virginia's mental health system is going under the microscope in the state legislature.

The push stems directly from the tragedy that unfolded two months ago, when the son of state Senator Creigh Deeds was released from emergency custody because a psychiatric bed could not be found. Tragically, Gus Deeds went on to attack his father and take his own life.

Among the many mental health proposals before the General Assembly are several that suggest extending the time limit for emergency custody orders (ECOs).

Deeds appeared before a Senate subcommittee on mental health Thursday to defend just such a bill, to extend the emergency custody window to 24 hours. Currently a person may be held for up to four hours, with an additional two-hour extension left up to a magistrate.

Other similar bills propose extending the window between two and six hours, giving community service boards more time to find treatment for someone in crisis.

But those proposals are raising the eyebrows of civil liberties advocates. Claire Guthrie Gastañaga of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia says extending the ECO window has questionable implications. She says allowing law enforcement to hold someone against their will for longer, without due process, would negatively impact some basic freedoms.

"If we're going to keep someone longer than six hours or eight hours or whatever that limit's going to be, then they have a right to a hearing and they should be in a therapeutic environment," Gastañaga said.

The ACLU of Virginia has not taken a formal position on bills to extend the ECO limit, but wants lawmakers to keep civil liberties top of mind while drafting new legislation.

Subcommittee members reached no agreement Thursday on whether to extend the ECO, or by how much. Several similar bills will be consolidated into a final proposal, which the subcommittee will likely vote on next week.

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