March 21, 2008 By Wallin & Klarich

A recent incident involving pop singer Brittany Spears brought to the public’s attention section 5150 of the Welfare and Institutions Code – the statutory procedure for involuntarily committing an individual to a mental health facility.

Under the law, if a certain designated professional, such as a law enforcement officer, or mental health professional, believes that a person is, as a result of a mental disorder, either, a danger to him or herself, a danger to other people, or suffering from a “grave disability” the person can be transported to a hospital for an evaluation. If the mental health professional at the hospital agrees with the law enforcement officer or other mental health professional, the hospital will involuntarily hold the person for up to 72 hours. If, during or at the end of the 72 hours, the hospital determines that the person is no longer a danger to him or herself or others and/or is no longer “gravely disabled”, then the person is to be released from the hospital.

However, if the hospital determines that the person is still a danger to him or herself or others and/or is no longer “gravely disabled,” then the person can be held for a longer period of time. Generally, in this situation, the hospital can hold the person for an additional fourteen days, however, if this happens, the patient is entitled to a “certification hearing” within four days to determine if the hospital has good cause to keep the patient in the hospital. The certification hearing is held before a hearing officer, who is generally a judge, court commissioner or referee, and, at the end of the hearing, the hearing officer can either order the patient be released, or, alternatively, can order the patient confined for the additional fourteen days.

The patient can also petition the superior court for a writ of habeas corpus. The writ hearing is held in the superior court in the county where the patient is confined, and, at the hearing, a superior court judge will determine whether there is good cause to continue to hold the patient, or whether the patient should be released from the hospital.

If the patient is held for the additional fourteen days, at the end of that time, the patient can either be released, or, if the person is suffering from a “grave disability” a temporary conservatorship can be established, or, if the person is a danger to him or herself, the hospital can attempt to re-certify the patient for another fourteen days, or, if the person is a danger to others, the patient can be “post-certified” which can allow the hospital to keep the patient for up to 180 days.

If you or a loved one are being held involuntarily, you should know that Wallin & Klarich has experience representing patients held involuntarily. Contact our office right away for a free consultation.

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