Petition to Expunge A Mental Health Commitment Before It’s Too Late

When a person’s mental health deteriorates to the point that he becomes a danger to himself or others, Pennsylvania law allows for the police to commit that person involuntarily into a Mental Health institution for a brief period of time (i.e., up to 72 hours, with options for extensions) for evaluation and treatment.

Can You Own Firearms after 302 Commitment in PA?

Rarely discussed with patients in these situations is the legal consequence that such an involuntary mental health commitment (often called a “302,” referring to the statute, though other sections of that statute can also constitute an “involuntary commitment”) carries with it a lifetime ban on that person’s possession of firearms – regardless of whether the person later becomes stable and no longer a threat to anyone.

Thankfully, there is a path to getting one’s firearms back; this is done by filing for an expungement of the involuntary commitment, on the basis that the commitment was without merit from the outset.

Expunging a 302 Commitment in PA?

Typically, this requires filing a petition and presenting medical documents and evidence at a hearing at the Court of Common Pleas regarding the original commitment supporting the idea that the involuntary commitment was not needed. Expert testimony can and often should be presented at the hearing to establish the absence of any present risk.

Note: there is another option for people who were previously committed to a mental health institution but who now wish to possess firearms. This is referred to as filing for “relief from the firearms disability” on the basis that while the original commitment was appropriate, the person is now stable and no longer a threat to anyone. However, this option presents other challenges, and is not the subject of this discussion.

You Only Have 6 Years to Expunge a 302 Commitment

While none of the foregoing is particularly new, what is new, and largely unknown to the public, is that a former patient of an involuntary commitment now only has 6 years from the date of the commitment to petition the court for the expungement of that involuntary mental health commitment.

A recent appeals court decision ruled that the 6-year statute of limitations (in other words, the maximum time one can wait before filing a petition in court) which typically applies only to civil suits and other related matters, now also applies to petitions to expunge involuntary commitments.

That means that if you were the subject of an involuntary mental health commitment, and you wish to petition the court to have it expunged, you must do so no later than 6 years following the commitment. If you do not file a petition for expungement within 6 years of an involuntary commitment, you may never again be able to possess your firearms.

Get Help Expunging a 302 Commitment

If you need help with pursuing the expungement of a prior involuntary mental health commitment, please contact the team at Trinity Law. With offices throughout southcentral PA, our firearms attorneys serve individuals in York, Lancaster, Adams, Dauphin, and surrounding counties.

josh bodene, civil rights attorney trinity law

About the Author

Josh Bodene, Esq., is a former associate of Trinity Law, and is a firearms enthusiast and understands all aspects of firearms law.

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