What is Florida’s Baker Act and how does it work?

Insight from a South Florida Baker Act Lawyer

The Baker Act is a Florida law that allows for involuntary examination and treatment of individuals suffering from mental illness. One in five adults in the United States suffer from some form of mental illness and it is much more common than people realize. It is a disease that can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, religion, education or income.  The impact untreatable mental illness can have on a person and their family can be devastating.

Like other medical conditions, mental illness can be effectively treated and people suffering from this can go on to lead healthy and productive lives. Sadly, many individuals with mental illness are not willing to get treatment due to a variety of reasons. That’s where understanding the legal implications of the Baker Act and having the right representation come into play.

While there are provisions for voluntary admission under the Baker Act, this article addresses the provision under the statute that governs involuntary examination and treatment. There are several ways in which a Baker Act can be initiated under Florida Statute 394. A judge can enter an ex parte order after a petition has been filed by family or anyone who has observed recent behavior by the mentally ill person. This can be done without an attorney. However, given the complexity of this law, having an experienced attorney guide you through this challenging and sensitive process can alleviate some of the stress and ensure that the law is being followed and the rights of the person being Baker Acted are protected.

Other ways in which a person can be baker acted are by law enforcement or by a qualified professional filling out a certificate stating that they have examined the person within 48 hours and that they appear to meet the criteria for involuntary examination based upon their observations . This can be done by a physician, physician assistant, a clinical psychologist, a psychiatric nurse, a mental health counselor, marriage and family therapist for a clinical social worker. Law enforcement officers can also initiate a Baker Act.

Criteria for the Baker Act : It should be used when a mentally ill person cannot determine for himself that examination and help is necessary and when the person is likely to suffer from neglect or refuse to care for himself to the extent that it poses a real and present threat of substantial harm to his wellbeing. Additionally, if there is a substantial likelihood that the person will cause serious bodily harm to himself or others in the near future based on their recent behavior, they can be brought in for involuntary examination. In either scenario, there must be no less restrictive alternative to treatment.

Time Frames: The involuntary examination must occur within 72 hours of the person’s arrival at the hospital or crisis facility. The person must be assessed by two professionals (a physician and a  clinical psychologist or a psychiatric nurse). If this does not occur within the 72 hours, legal action may be taken to secure the person’s release by filing a writ of habeas corpus.

If it is determined after assessment that treatment is needed, a petition is filed for involuntary services and a court hearing is held within five days. Having an experienced lawyer at the hearing is critical to ensuring that the law is followed and that the rights of the person who has been Baker Acted are protected.

A patient has the right to confidentiality and information regarding  admission and treatment cannot be disclosed to anyone without the consent of the patient. This is very important as the family needs to understand that without written consent to release information, they may feel helpless due to a lack of information. Getting the patient to sign a release is one of the most important things an experienced attorney will do. Being able to communicate with doctors and therapists is a critical part of the treatment and recovery process.

Contact a South Florida Baker Act Lawyer

There is HOPE. Mental illness is treatable and recovery is not only possible, it is very likely with the right treatment and support from family and friends. As an attorney with decades of experience in mental health law, I know the court system and will compassionately guide you through the legal process to ensure your loved one is getting  the best treatment possible. Call today at (954) 253-5457.