Individuals and families who suffer with psychiatric issues require emotional support and legal protection. Under the Baker Act, Florida provides for the voluntary and admission of those requiring psychiatric care on the condition they understand the decision and can exercise those rights.
Involuntary provisions of the Baker Act extend due process rights to the individuals with severe conditions. The process helps separate those who require care and supervision from those who can function independently.
Provisions of the Baker Act
Procedural provisions for involuntary admission under the Act merge the prospective patients’ legal rights with an involuntary examination. The most important aspects of involuntary admission fall within three areas:
- Initiation: A circuit court may enter an order based upon sworn testimony; a law enforcement officer may take a person who meets the criteria into custody or a medical worker may certify an examination within the previous 48 hours;
- Criteria: Persons believed to be mentally ill as defined under the Act, who have refused voluntary examination because of the illness, or who are likely to suffer neglect that may pose an unavoidable threat of substantial harm or a substantial likelihood they will cause serious bodily harm to themselves or others.
- Discharge/release: Involuntary examinations may not exceed 72 hours. If not released, patients either have a petition filed in circuit court for involuntary placement or give express consent voluntarily.
Evidentiary standard: Clear and convincing evidence
A recent court case from Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal highlights how the Act operates. A defendant appealed a circuit court’s petition granting involuntary inpatient placement. The appeal argued the state had failed to establish without treatment he was likely to suffer from neglect or refusal to care for himself and posing substantial harm to his well-being.
In its review, the Court of Appeal found that the testimony of the doctor relied almost exclusively on ambiguous fear expressed the defendant’s mother. This speculative belief does not satisfy the standard of clear and convincing evidence required for involuntary placement. Ultimately, the court reversed the order.
Decisions regarding the psychiatric care of family and friends can overwhelm everyone involved. The legal process to determine whether the Baker Act applies demands a willingness to assist at every step along the way. An attorney who understands the act can provide guidance.