Jacob Sullum

The same mental-health magic that absolves guilty men of responsibility can strip innocent men of their freedom. The day before Breivik was sentenced, a Virginia judge ordered the release of Brandon Raub, a 26-year-old Marine Corps veteran who was forced to undergo psychiatric evaluation based on his conspiracy-minded, anti-government Facebook posts.

Federal agents and Chesterfield County police came and took Raub away on Aug. 16 in response to complaints about the posts, which mix laments about lost liberty and condemnations of tyranny with dark music lyrics, predictions of impending revolution and wacky but sadly familiar allegations about the government's involvement in 9/11.

A week later, Circuit Judge W. Allan Sharrett ruled that the petition used to obtain an order committing Raub for a month, which was supposed to be based on evidence that he posed an imminent danger to others, was "so devoid of any factual allegations that it could not be reasonably expected to give rise to a case or controversy."

Raub's brush with psychiatric coercion gives you a sense of how loosening the rules for civil commitment, as various pundits urged in the wake of Jared Lee Loughner's shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz., last year, could sweep up harmless cranks who pose no threat to public safety. If the reforms recommended by the stop-them-before-they-kill crowd had been implemented, Raub might still be imprisoned for his disturbing opinions.


Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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