Recently, I was honored to represent an individual who faced the following problem. This has been abbreviated to protect the individual.
Here’s the story: This individual has held a valid Ohio CHL for many years. Recently, they were alone in their home late at night. Recent events had left that person surrounded by many personal and family stresses. There were problems at work, difficult family members, and even problems with neighbors. The kind of stress many of us have to deal with on a regular basis. Someone knocked sharply on their door in the early morning hours and when they turned on the light and peeked out the window they were startled to find two local police officers standing there with handguns drawn. Momentarily frightened, they hesitated at first to open the door.
After a second sharp knock, the door was opened and the ultimate question was asked, “What’s wrong?” The officers responded that they had received a report that the person living at this address was known to have guns, was known to hold a CHL, and because of recent stresses may be suicidal. The individual denied any suicidal thoughts, but the officers did not seem to be listening. They searched the residence, found no obvious firearms, but decided “for the safety of the individual” that they were going to detain them and send them to the hospital for evaluation. At the same time, they confiscated the individual’s CHL and their concealed carry handgun. The individual was transported by squad to the local hospital, evaluated by healthcare professionals, and released just a few hours later with no medical or mental health problems observed.
A short time later, the individual was shocked again when the local sheriff revoked their CHL and the local police refused to return their handgun. The sheriff cited as authority ORC 2923.128(B)(1)(f) which states that an individual’s concealed handgun license is to be revoked if the licensee is ever “committed to a mental institution”. WHAT HAPPENED?
The local law enforcement officers implemented a little-known provision of Ohio mental health law generally referred to as a “pink slip”. ORC 5122.10 provides that if a law enforcement officer suspects an individual as being mentally ill, they are authorized to take the individual into custody and have them transported to a hospital or mental health facility. Once transported to the hospital, hospital staff must examine the individual within very tight time parameters and either discharge the individual or detain the individual while awaiting Probate Court intervention.
The problem is that Ohio law does not define what it means to be “committed to a mental institution”. The sheriff’s position was that use of the pink slip by the local law enforcement officer effectively caused the individual to be committed to a mental institution. The sheriff’s position was that it didn’t matter that the officer was not a mental health professional or that the officer had no special mental health training. It didn’t matter that the individual denied having any mental health problems. All that mattered was that the law enforcement officer on his own authority caused the individual to be taken into custody and be transported to a hospital based upon some supposed mental health issue.
Fortunately, the Court took a more realistic view of the facts. In a case of first impression in Ohio, and limited to the facts of this particular case, the Court found for the individual and ordered that the CHL be returned. The Court took note of federal regulations which do provide some direction in determining whether someone was “committed to a mental institution”. The Court stated that just because someone is an involuntary patient does not necessarily mean that they are “admitted” or “committed” to the hospital.
This is a fantastic result for an individual who did not deserve to have to fight this fight. Carried to its extreme, the Sheriff’s position could have meant that any police officer could force an individual to lose their CHL by issuing a pink slip any time they wanted to – without need for medical evaluation, without the person ever being admitted to a hospital, and without any other evidence. Sadly, although the CHL was returned by the Sheriff, the police department refused to return the handgun without a second legal battle.