North Dakota Genealogy Trails

Summaries of State Laws relating to the Insane
Originally By John Koren
Revised by S.W. Hamilton, M.D. and Roy Haber, L.L. B., A.M.

[Transcribed by K. Torp]


Compiled Laws of North Dakota, 1913
Laws of North Dakota, 1915, 1917, 1918


a. General. The board of control of state institutions consists of three members appointed by the governor, with the consent of the senate for terms of six years. The chairman of the board is designated by the governor for each biennial period. The members receive a salary of $3,000 per annum and expenses, and are subject to removal by the governor.

The board is charged with the management of the charitable and correctional institutions of the state, and with the investigation of the methods of caring for the insane, delinquent, and criminal classes.

The board of control manages and controls the state hospital for the insane, and makes all by-laws and regulations necessary for its government.

The commissioners of insanity (see 3b.) in each organized county are responsible for the safe-keeping of the insane in their respective counties.

b. Institutional. The superintendent of the hospital is appointed by the board of control. He must be a physician of acknowledged skill and ability, a graduate of a reputable medical college; and must give a bond to the state for $10,000, conditioned for the faithful discharge of the duties of his office, to be approved by the board. In addition to having the entire control of the medical, moral and dietetic treatment of the patients, he appoints all employees and assistants necessary for the institution except the steward and matron, who are appointed by the board of control, and may discharge any of these employees at will and suspend any resident officer of the hospital, except the steward, being responsible to the board for the proper exercise of this power.


a. In state institutions.

North Dakota State Hospital for the Insane, Jamestown; established, 1883; beds, 750.

Jamestown Insane Asylum
Hospital Building and Ward Building

b. In local institutions. The county commissioners, who are the overseers of the poor, must provide for the indigent insane of their respective counties who can not be received at the state hospital, and may care for them in the county asylum when one has been established.


a. Persons committed. All resident insane of the state who are not idiots are entitled to receive care and treatment at the state hospital. Residents of other states may be admitted to the hospital upon payment of the cost of board and treatment, but not to exclusion of resident insane.

b. Legal procedure in commitment. In each organized county county there is a board, consisting of three persons, known as "commissioners of insanity." The county judge is a member of the board and its chairman. The other two members are appointed by the board of county commissioners, one of whom must be a reputable
practicing physician and the other a reputable practicing attorney, the term of appointment being for two years. In case of the temporary absence of the Commissioners or their inability to act, the county judge calls to his aid a reputable practicing physician or attorney. The commissioners have cognizance of all applications for admission to the hospital. They have power to issue subpoenas and to administer oaths.

Applications for admission to the hospital must be made in writing, verified by affidavit, alleging that the person in whose behalf the application is made is believed to be insane and needs custody and treatment in the hospital for the insane. The commissioners must at once investigate the grounds for the application and may require the person for whom admission is sought to be brought before them for examination. Any citizen of the county or any relative of the person alleged to be insane may appear and resist the application, and the parties may appear by counsel. The commissioners, whether they decide to dispense with the presence of the person alleged to be insane or not, must appoint some regular practicing physician of the county, who may be of their own number, to make a personal examination of him. The physician appointed must certify that he has made a careful personal examination, and that he finds the person insane or not insane. In connection with the examination, the physician must endeavor to obtain from the relatives of the person, or from others, correct answers to the interrogatories required by the law. If the commissioners find the person insane and a proper subject for treatment at the hospital, they must authorize the superintendent to receive him.

If it becomes necessary, for want of room or other cause, to discriminate in the reception of patients into the hospital, a selection must be made as follows: (1) cases of less than one year's duration; (2) chronic cases of more than one year's duration presenting the most favorable prospects for recovery; (3) those for whom application has been longest on file; (4) when cases are equally meritorious in all other respects, the indigent are to be preferred.

When persons found to be insane can not at once be admitted to the hospital nor safely be allowed at liberty, the commissioners must require them to be suitably provided for otherwise until admission can be had, or until the occasion therefor no longer exists. If such a person is to be cared for without public charge, the commissioners must appoint a special custodian for him. In the case of public patients, the commissioners must require that they be cared for by the overseers of the poor. If there is no poorhouse for their reception, or no more suitable place can be found, they may be confined in the county jail; or the commissioners, in their discretion, may require them to be taken to a hospital of any state that may be designated by the governor, who is authorized to make the best terms he can for the admission of such patients.

On application to the commissioners on behalf of persons alleged to be insane and whose admission to the hospital is not sought, asking that provision be made for their care as insane, either as public or private charges, within the county, the commissioners, on proof of their insanity, may provide for them as in other cases.

Insane persons who have been under care, outside of the hospital, may on application be transferred to the state hospital whenever they can be admitted thereto, on the warrant of the commissioners. Such admission may be had within six months without another inquest, unless the commissioners deem a further inquest advisable.

No person supposed to be insane may be restrained of his liberty by any other person except by authority obtained as herein required, save to such extent and for such brief period as may be necessary for the safety of persons until proper authority can be had.

Any person found by the commissioners of insanity to be insane who has no legal residence within this state must be sent, at the expense of the state, to the place where he belongs when it can be ascertained.

c. Voluntary admission.

d. Appeal from commitment. On a statement in writing, verified by affidavit to the county judge of the county in which the hospital is situated or of the county in which any person confined in the hospital has his residence, alleging that a person is not insane and is unjustly deprived of his liberty, the judge must appoint a commission of not more than three persons to inquire into the merits of the case, one of whom must be a physician; and if two or more are appointed, one must be an attorney. Their report to the county judge must be signed by the superintendent. Before finding the person sane, the judge must notify the nearest relative or friend and all who testified at the hearing at which the person was found insane, to appear before him within five days and give testimony. If, on their report, the county judge finds the person sane, he must order his discharge; if not, he must authorize his continued detention. The commission so provided for may not be repeated oftener than jsfi3-once in six months for the same person, and no commission may be appointed in the case of any patient within six months of the' time of his admission.

All persons confined as insane are entitled to the benefit of the writ of habeas corpus. If the judge decides that a person is insane, this is no bar to the issuance of the writ a second time whenever it is alleged that he has been restored to reason.

e. Cost of commitment. The expense of committing an insane person to the hospital, including the fees to the commissioners of insanity, the judge and the examining physician, is paid out of the county treasury; but the fee and expenses of the sheriff for conveying a patient to the hospital, or to the authorities of another state, are paid out of the state treasury.


A state transportation agent or his deputy has the duty of conveying insane persons to the hospital. A female taken to the hospital must be attended by some other female or some relative. The superintendent, in his acknowledgment of delivery, must state whether there was any such person in attendance. If any relative or intimate friend of the patient, who is a suitable person, requests it, he has the privilege of executing the commissioners' warrant in preference to the sheriff or any other person.


No patient who is under charge or conviction of homicide may be discharged without order of the board of control.

Any patient who is cured must immediately be discharged by the superintendent and be furnished with suitable clothing and a sum of money not exceeding $20, which shall be charged to the expenses of the patient in the hospital. The relatives of any patient not susceptible of cure and not dangerous to be at large have the right to remove him with the consent of the board of control. On application of the relatives or immediate friends of any patient in the hospital who is not cured and who can not safely be allowed to go at liberty, the commissioners of insanity of the county where such patient belongs may authorize his discharge and provide for his care within the county. When a patient is discharged from the hospital, without application, notice must at once be sent to the commissioners of insanity of the county where he belongs, who must have him removed and cared for in the county, as in other cases, unless the patient is discharged as cured. And if the commissioners of insanity of such county neglect to remove such patient within thirty days from the date of the order of discharge, the county is liable to the state for the sum of $2 per day for the care and keeping of the patient at the hospital. The superintendent of the hospital must report annually all such delinquencies and the time of any patient kept beyond the period of thirty days to the governor. The amount thus reported is charged to each county named and made a part of the tax levied against the county.


The expense for the care, board, and treatment of all patients in the state hospital is a charge upon each county sending them.

The superintendent must furnish the county auditor of each county having patients in the state hospital a quarterly statement giving the number of patients belonging to the county, the name of each patient, and the cost of his maintenance.

When notified that a patient sent from one county has a legal residence in another, the superintendent must hold and keep him at the expense of the latter county, including expense already incurred and unadjusted.

Expense incurred by one county on account of insane persons whose legal residence is in another county must be refunded by the county of residence.

When the county commissioners of a county make claim that a patient is not a proper charge against their county, and so notify the state auditor, stating that he is a charge against some other county, or against the state at large, the state auditor must notify the county auditors of each of the counties in question to file proofs within thirty days, and after investigation of the residence of the patient determines the matter. The superintendent of the hospital must thereafter treat the patient as from the county determined by the state auditor, and if he finds that the patient is not a proper charge against any county in the state, he must be regarded as a charge against the state at large. Any county may appeal from the determination of the state auditor to the district court of the county.

The expense incurred by any county for the maintenance of a patient at the state hospital is a charge against his estate; provided, that he has no heirs within the United States dependent on the estate for support; and provided, that no real property may be sold during the life of the insane person nor any personal property under five years from the date of sending the patient to the hospital, unless by order of the proper court when the property is liable to deteriorate in value. When it is sold, the county court must order the proceeds to be safely invested for the benefit of the insane person. The board of control fixes the amount to be paid for the care and treatment of patients. The sum may not exceed twenty-four dollars a month for residents of the state. Non-residents are required to pay the actual cost.


If a jury finds that the defendant in a criminal case is insane, the trial or judgment must be suspended until he becomes sane, and the court must, in the meantime, order him committed to the state hospital for the insane by the sheriff and re-delivered to the sheriff upon becoming sane, to stand trial or judgment or be discharged.

When a jury returns a verdict acquitting a defendant upon the grounds of insanity, the court may, if the defendant is in custody and it deems his discharge dangerous to the public safety, order him to be committed to the state hospital for the insane or to the care of such person or persons as the court may direct, until he becomes sane.

When any person becomes insane during confinement, in the penitentiary or reform school, the governor must make inquiry, and if he determines that the person is insane, he must order him confined and treated in the state hospital for the insane, and upon his recovery, if before the expiration of the term for which he is committed, returned to the penal institution from which he was taken.

The superintendent of the hospital must notify the warden or superintendent of the recovery of a person transferred as provided, and the warden or superintendent must, if the term of sentence of the person has not expired, return him to the proper custody. If the term of imprisonment has expired at the time of recovery, the warden or superintendent may direct that he be released from further custody by the superintendent of the hospital.


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