It’s an agonizing experience to see your loved one lose control to the point where they pose a danger to themselves or others. Unfortunately, many families face this terrible situation when a relative is suffering from mental illness or substance abuse.
These families wish they could simply force their loved one to get the treatment they need. However, it isn’t easy — neither personally nor legally — for one adult to force another adult to do something they don’t want to do.
Florida has two state laws that can help individuals and families in these situations.
The Baker Act
The Baker Act allows family members to request emergency mental health services for a person who is experiencing serious mental illness. These services may include temporary detention.
In order for a situation to merit a Baker Act response, the person must meet three criteria:
- The individual must have refused treatment, or must be incapable of deciding about treatment.
- The individual must be unable to care for their own needs and pose a substantial danger to themselves without treatment.
- The individual must pose a threat to others without treatment.
The Marchman Act
Similarly, the Marchman Act allows for a civil court to order an individual to submit to treatment for drug and alcohol treatment. If the individual fails to comply, they may face legal penalties.
As with the Baker Act, the Marchman Act is intended for people who pose a substantial risk to themselves or others.
To get started with an order under the Baker Act, first the court must receive a petition from a close relative, a spouse or three concerned people.
As we noted above, the law does not make it easy to confine a person who has not committed any crime, even if the confinement is for their own good. Likewise, psychologists and other medical professionals and social workers are reluctant to infringe on the civil rights of a person who is refusing their help.
The 5th and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution state that it is unlawful to deprive a person of their liberty without due process of law. The Marchman Act and the Baker Act are intended to provide this due process. However, putting these laws into practice requires skill and the kind of knowledge that only comes from experience.