Involuntary Commitment Under Florida Law

A Brief Overview by Douglas J. Rudman, Esq.

In Florida, the law allows for two different types of involuntary commitment. Involuntary commitment of a loved one who is suffering from ‘mental illness’ or ‘substance abuse’ is always a difficult decision to make.

Many times, loved ones will turn to substance abuse in an attempt to “self-medicate” as a result of underlying mental illness. These types of patients are referred to as dual- diagnosis, identifying the need for mental health as well as substance abuse treatment.

The first type of involuntary commitment is structured to address ‘mental illness’. The law applied in this case is routinely called the “Baker Act” and the criteria for this examination can be found under Florida Statute §394.463.

Florida law dictates that a person may be taken to a receiving facility for involuntary examination if there is reason to believe that the person has a mental illness and because of their mental illness the person has either refused voluntary examination or is unable to determine for themselves whether an examination is necessary.

Once determining if the person qualifies under the first part of the statute, it must be determined if they meet the criteria set forth in the second section of the statute:

• Without care or treatment, is the person likely to suffer from neglect or refuse to care for themselves; or

• If there is a substantial likelihood that without care or treatment the patient will cause serious bodily harm to themselves or others in the near future, as evidenced by recent behavior.

Upon conclusion of the evaluation, if it is determined that your loved one meets the requirements for involuntary commitment under this section, the court shall hold the hearing on involuntary inpatient placement within 5 days. The hearing shall be held in the county where the patient is located and shall be as convenient to the person as may be consistent with orderly procedure.

The second type of involuntary commitment falls under Florida Statute §397.675 and is routinely referred to as the “Marchman Act”. This act addresses those individuals that suffer from substance abuse and is a means of providing an individual in need of substance abuse services with immediate and emergency evaluation, detention and treatment.

An involuntary admission can take place under Florida law when it is demonstrated that there is a good faith reason to believe the person impaired by substance abuse and, because of such impairment, they have lost the power of self-control with respect to substance use; and either has:

• Inflicted, attempted or threatened to inflict, or unless admitted, is likely to inflict physical harm on themselves or another; or

• The person’s judgment has been so impaired because of substance abuse that they are incapable of appreciating the need for substance abuse services and of making a rational decision in regard to substance abuse services.

There are many different ways in which an involuntary commitment under the “Marchman Act” can be initiated. A private mental health practitioner, the person’s spouse or guardian, any relative of the person, the director of a licensed service provider or the director’s designee, or any three (3) responsible adults who have personal knowledge of the person’s substance abuse impairment or, in the case of a minor, the minor’s parent, legal guardian, legal custodian or licensed service provider can file an Involuntary Marchman Act Petition.

Moreover, pursuant to Florida Statute §397.677, a law enforcement officer may take a person into protective custody when an individual appears to meet admission criteria and is either brought to the attention of law enforcement or is found in a public place.

In closing, it is important to note that the individual being committed has due process rights and may contest this involuntary commitment in court when the temporary commitment order comes up for judicial review. Remember that this is just a brief overview. It is strongly encouraged that you contact an attorney experienced in handling these matters, or, read the laws regarding these acts in their entirety before deciding whether or not either of these statutes is appropriate for your situation.

Douglas J. Rudman is licensed Florida attorney and a former prosecutor with the Office of the State Attorney for the 15th Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County, Florida. Now in private practice, he has dedicated himself towards defending those who are charged with crimes. Attorney Rudman advocates for sentencing alternatives to jail or prison especially for those who are suffering from drug, alcohol and/or dual diagnosis disorders. He has addressed numerous schools, community groups and programs in order to educate both young adults and adults about the criminal justice system, domestic violence and the penalties associated with drug and alcohol related crimes.