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Understanding more about the Baker Act

The idea that you could possibly be detained by state officials against your will in the absence of some sort of alleged criminal activity probably seems like an impossible proposition to many people.

While this is by no means an incorrect assumption, it's important to understand that there are certain exceptions under state law that are both constitutional and exercised quite frequently by law enforcement officials. By way of illustration, consider proceedings held under Chapter 394 of the Florida Statutes, otherwise known as the Florida Mental Health Act and the Baker Act.

In general, a Baker Act proceeding is one in which it is determined whether an individual should be temporarily detained in order to receive the necessary treatment for a mental health issue.

Baker Act proceedings can go one of two ways: voluntary or involuntary. In the former, the parent of a minor or an individual age 18 or older will simply petition the court to be admitted to a local facility where they can be evaluated, diagnosed and treated for a mental health issue. In the latter, things become considerably more complicated.

A person will be involuntary committed in a Baker Act proceeding if the court makes three findings:

  • The person is suffering from a mental illness and, as a result, has refused voluntary treatment or is otherwise incapable of determining whether such treatment is necessary.
  • The person is incapable of living on their own or with assistance, and there is a substantial likelihood that they will suffer serious bodily harm or cause harm to others in the near future based on their recent conduct.
  • Any less restrictive treatment alternative would be inappropriate.

We will continue to explore this topic in our next post, including how Baker Act proceedings are initiated and what happens once a warrant is issued.

Source: Escambia County Florida Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller, "Court services- Baker Act," Accessed March 11, 2015  

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