How to Challenge Casey’s Law: Strengthening Kentucky’s Involuntary Drug Treatment

A Law in Flux

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear recently signed a bill that bolstered a controversial law, Casey’s Law. This move aligned lawmakers, an appeals court, and the governor, all of whom had questioned the law’s constitutionality^1^. The Kentucky Court of Appeals had issued an opinion stating that while the law could stand, it needed adjustments to be considered constitutional^2^.

Strengthening the Law

Kentucky legislators had already taken steps to address this issue. A bill unanimously passed both houses and was awaiting Beshear’s approval^3^. The newly signed House Bill 362 specifies that healthcare professionals involved in examinations may be subpoenaed for cross-examination during court hearings. The bill also confirms that a treatment order will be issued only if proof beyond a reasonable doubt is established^4^.

Governor Beshear emphasized the importance of expanding assistance for those battling addiction: “We must do what we can to help more of our people achieve recovery and avoid the tragedies of addiction”^4^.

Constitutional Concerns

The legality of Casey’s Law was challenged in 2020 when two individuals were ordered into drug treatment by the court following petitions from their families^5^. The court agreed with one appellant who argued that there was insufficient evidence to justify involuntary commitment^6^. The basis for this ruling hinged on the standard of proof used in Casey’s Law—specifically, the use of “probable cause” instead of the more stringent “beyond a reasonable doubt”^7^.

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Amendments for Effective Intervention

To address concerns, State Representative Kimberly Moser, R-Taylor Mill, sponsored a bill to enhance Casey’s Law^8^. She explained that the bill’s purpose was to streamline petitions for families who struggled to get their adult children or other family members into treatment^9^. Moser discovered that some judges had already been applying the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in their orders, although the law did not explicitly require it^10^.

Casey’s Law: A Personal Drive for Change

The Matthew Casey Wethington Act for Substance Abuse Intervention is named after Casey Wethington, who tragically succumbed to a heroin overdose in 2002 at the age of 23^11^. Casey’s mother, Charlotte Wethington, pushed for legislation that would empower parents, relatives, and friends of adults facing addiction to intervene when they were unable to help their loved ones^11^.

Striving for Constitutional Clarity

The Kentucky Appeals Court acknowledges Casey’s Law’s well-intentioned purpose but expresses concerns about its constitutionality. The court references issues such as vagueness, overbreadth, lack of procedural due process, and equal protection under the law. This includes challenges under both the US and Kentucky Constitutions^12^.

Charlotte Wethington emphasized that Casey’s Law has always aimed to provide Kentucky families with an option to help their loved ones while protecting their rights^12^. The law was designed as a civil court proceeding to highlight the importance of medical professionals’ assessments and to ensure that two separate experts evaluate individuals with substance use disorders^12^.

A Tool for Treatment, Not a Rubber Stamp

Casey’s Law was never intended as a rubber-stamp solution. From 2004 to 2021, there were 7,020 petitions filed and 2,670 orders and judgments issued, according to Wethington^13^. She appreciates Moser’s bill and Beshear’s endorsement, as they solidify the law’s language, making it more effective^14^.

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Subpoenaing Medical Professionals

The need to subpoena medical professionals arose when a person appealing their treatment order claimed they were denied the opportunity to cross-examine healthcare providers about their assessments^15^. The court affirmed the importance of cross-examination and stated that if medical providers appear in court, they can indeed be cross-examined^16^.

Pending Cases and Future Challenges

Regarding the two cases in question, the court advised families to file new petitions under Casey’s Law if they deem it necessary, considering the considerable time that has passed since the initial petitions were submitted^17^. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron expressed gratitude for the Court of Appeals’ unanimous approval of Casey’s Law. However, he expressed concerns about potential obstacles for families utilizing this crucial tool in the future. Cameron’s office is currently studying the opinion, contemplating the possibility of seeking a review from the Kentucky Supreme Court^18^.

For more information on Casey’s Law and its impact, visit Garrity Traina.

Image: Charlotte Wethington, of Morning View, Ky. and 2015 Enquirer Women of the Year honoree, speaks during a meeting for Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL) at Catholic Charities in Covington, Ky. Wethington has been recognized for her work as an advocate for drug use awareness and treatment when she lost her son to heroin in 2002. Wethington was also the driving force behind the Kentucky law called the Matthew Casey Wethington Act, in 2004.