Federal judge asked to reinstate state’s controversial 48-hour rule

Federal judge asked to reinstate state’s controversial 48-hour rule

Federal judge asked to reinstate state's controversial 48-hour rule

As Minnesota struggles to address a mental health crisis in jails across the state, a federal judge is now considering whether to reinstate a law that required the state to quickly move people into treatment after they are found mentally incompetent. 

A class action lawsuit is challenging the legislature’s decision to relax the state’s ‘48-Hour Rule.”

It required the Minnesota Department of Human Services to move people out of jails and into state mental health facilities no more than two days after a judge committed them to treatment for mental illness.

In May, lawmakers put the ‘48-Hour Rule’ on hold after 5 INVESTIGATES revealed the state was accused of repeatedly violating the law by leaving people locked up for weeks or even months.

Now lawyers on behalf of Kyle Jerome Dalen and others are challenging the legislature’s decision to relax the rules for DHS.

“The Amendment is unconstitutionally vague… and violates Mr. Dalen and the class members’ due process rights,” attorneys wrote in their motion for a preliminary injunction.

U.S. District Judge Eric Tostrud heard oral arguments on the motion in St. Paul on Monday.

Lawyers for DHS insist the state does not have enough mental health beds to meet the increasing demand.

Admissions to the agency’s Direct Care and Treatment have risen from 113 in 2014 to nearly 400 last year, according to court records.

“Admitting more patients than can be safely served… puts existing patients and new patients, as well as staff, at significant risk,” attorneys wrote in opposition to the motion for an injunction.

The latest legal fight has the attention of law enforcement and officials across the state including Washington County Attorney Kevin Magnuson.

“We’re all watching that case with interest because the issue is very pertinent,” Magnuson said. “It involves people’s constitutional rights and that shows the kind of Achilles heel of the approach of trying to lift the 48 Hour Rule.”

Magnuson is also part of a task force the legislature created to examine potential long term reforms to what is known as the state’s priority admissions policy.

“The problem they have is they just lack the capacity, so they still don’t have any place to put anybody,” Magnuson said. “They’ve got people waiting in hospitals, they’ve got people waiting in jails, they’ve got people that are in the community that shouldn’t be in the community that are waiting.”

At last check, DHS told 5 INVESTIGATES it had 53 people on its priority admissions waiting list. 

Former DFL State Representative Debra Hilstrom, the chief author of the 48-Hour Rule in 2013, is now among those calling on the state to find a lasting solution.

“I think that it is time for the constitutional issues to be raised, but I think it is ultimately time for the legislature to fix the problem,” Hilstrom said. “Fundamentally, how we treat people when they’re at their lowest point in their life really says something about our government.”