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Amanda Bynes and Involuntary Civil Commitment in California

Amanda Bynes involuntary commitmentThe lives of child actors often become cautionary tales about the fleeting nature of fame and fortune. Amanda Bynes, once the star of Nickelodeon’s “All That,” has a story that is not unlike many that came before her, but in some ways, hers may be the most troubling case of all.

In October, doctors at a Pasadena hospital placed the 28-year-old Bynes under an involuntary 72-hour psychiatric hold after a series of strange claims she posted on her Twitter account. In one message, she stated that a surgically implanted microchip in her brain caused her to make false allegations that her father physically and sexually abused her as a child.

In the age of social media, the very public nature of Bynes’ apparent decline in mental health has put a spotlight on California’s laws concerning the process of involuntarily committing a person to treatment and care for mental illness.

Involuntary Commitment (California Welfare and Institutions Code Section 5150)

You may have heard the number “5150” used as shorthand to describe someone who has a mental illness. The number refers to California Welfare and Institutions Code Section 5150, which was created in 1972 by the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act. The law allows peace officers, doctors, registered nurses, and certain other authorized individuals to declare, upon probable cause, that a person is a danger to others, or to himself or herself, or that the person is gravely disabled as a result of a mental health disorder. Under this statute, “gravely disabled” means that the person is not dangerous, but is presently unable to provide for his or her basic needs for food, clothing, or shelter because of a mental disorder.1

The effect of the law is that a medical facility may take the person (who is now referred to as “the patient”) into involuntary custody for a 72-hour evaluation period. During that time, the facility’s staff can evaluate the patient’s mental condition, provide treatment, and perform crisis intervention services. The evaluation must include an assessment of the patient’s medical, psychological, educational, social, financial and legal situation.

The patient must also be advised of their rights. These rights include access to visitors, receiving his or her mail unopened, and access to a telephone. In some cases, the patient may refuse to receive medical treatment. However, in the event of an emergency, or if a court deems the patient is incapable of making informed decisions about his/her care, the patient may be treated against his/her will.

At the end of the 72-hour period, the hospital may decide to extend the patient’s custody for an additional 14 days. In order to justify this, the hospital’s medical staff will have to present evidence at a probable cause hearing before a court-appointed referee within four days of that decision. The patient is also allowed to have a patient’s rights advocate argue on his or her behalf that further treatment is unnecessary. After that point, the patient has the right to request a hearing before a judge.

Bynes’ initial custody was extended to 14 days, after which she was released.2 However, in some cases, the court can decide at the end of that period whether the patient can be held for up to an additional 180 days if he or she made a serious threat of substantial physical harm, or if he or she attempted or inflicted physical harm on another due to a mental disorder, and if he or she still poses a physical danger to others.

Contact the Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich for More Information

Criminal Defense AttorneyIf you or a loved one has been subjected to an involuntary civil commitment and believe you should be released, you need to speak with an experienced defense attorney right away. At Wallin & Klarich, our skilled attorneys have been protecting our clients rights for over 30 years. We are dedicated to working tirelessly on your behalf to provide you with the best legal representation possible, and we are available for a free, no obligation phone consultation.

With offices located in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich attorney available to help you no matter where you work or live.

Call us today at (888) 280-6839 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.


1. [See Welfare & Institutions Code section 5008(h)(1)(A)]
2. [http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/amanda-bynes-released-psychiatric-facility/story?id=26597984]

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