The Florida Mental Health Act, commonly referred to as the Baker Act, was enacted to establish mental health programs aimed at “reducing the occurrence, severity, duration, and disabling aspects of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders” (Section 394.453, Florida Statutes). The Baker Act encompasses various provisions, including screening and the appointment of legal guardians. However, it is most recognized for its provisions regarding involuntary evaluation and confinement, often known as being “Baker Acted.”
Understanding Involuntary Evaluation
You may have heard the term “Baker Acted” in reference to someone who has displayed extreme behavior suggesting a mental illness that poses a threat to themselves or others. Originally, the act authorized involuntary confinement and evaluation solely in cases where an individual posed such a threat. Recent amendments have widened the criteria to some extent, but this remains the standard followed by most mental health facilities.
The decision for involuntary evaluation can be made by one of three types of individuals:
- A court can issue an order stating that a person appears to meet the criteria and direct their transportation to a facility for evaluation.
- A law enforcement officer can take into custody an individual who seems to meet the criteria and transport them to a facility for evaluation.
- A healthcare professional, such as a physician, clinical psychologist, psychiatric nurse, mental health counselor, marriage and family therapist, or clinical social worker, can execute a certificate stating that they have evaluated the person within the last 48 hours and believe they meet the criteria for involuntary evaluation (Section 394.463 (2) (a) (1)-(3), Florida Statutes).
During the involuntary examination, which can last up to 72 hours, physicians and counselors assess and interview the patient to determine their mental state and the necessary treatment, including further involuntary confinement. If a patient is deemed releasable earlier, they may still be retained for the full 72 hours.
Within the 72-hour period, the facility must take one of the following actions:
- Release the patient without any conditions.
- Release the patient for voluntary outpatient treatment.
- Request the patient’s consent for voluntary inpatient treatment.
- File a petition with the appropriate circuit court for involuntary placement when outpatient or inpatient treatment is necessary but the patient refuses to consent (Section 394.463 (2) (i) (1)-(4), Florida Statutes).
Seeking Release for Clients
The facility is not the sole entity capable of involving the court system. A patient or their guardian advocate can file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, requesting a hearing regarding release from involuntary confinement. These forms are typically available to patients at the facility, or an attorney can prepare and file the petition when necessary.
Legal counsel may also intervene during the 72-hour window to secure a patient’s release before the facility petitions the court to extend the confinement. Generally, the deciding factor is whether the individual poses a danger to themselves or others.
In our experience, having an attorney present alongside family members informs the facility that there is a support system in place to address the patient’s needs. This indicates the family’s commitment to addressing the facility’s concerns through voluntary treatment or active family participation, which can be highly effective.
It is important to note that the Baker Act explicitly states that confinement is not appropriate when potential harm “can be avoided through the help of willing family members or friends” (Section 394.463(1)(b)(1), Florida Statutes). Clients should be aware that hiring an attorney is one of the best ways to demonstrate their seriousness about obtaining release.
As attorneys, staying updated on changing laws and legislation is crucial to support our clients’ evolving needs. Keeping abreast of any future legal amendments and current trends allows us to better represent our clients.
Remember, for comprehensive legal support and guidance related to the Baker Act, Garrity Traina is here to assist you.