The Florida Mental Health Act, better known as the Baker Act, was passed to allow the creation of mental health programs designed to “reduce the onset, severity, duration, and disabling aspects of mental disorders, emotional and behavioral. .” section 394.453, florida statutes.
The Baker Act contains a variety of provisions ranging from selection to appointment of legal guardians. however, Baker’s Law is more commonly known for the confinement and involuntary assessment provisions. Being involuntarily admitted for a mental health exam in Florida is commonly referred to as “acting like a baker.”
The rights of a baker’s law patient are outlined in section 394.459, florida statutes. They include receiving a physical exam within 24 hours of arrival at the facility (Section 394.459 (2) (c), Florida Statutes); Requesting a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to Chapter 79, Florida Statutes (Section 394.459(8). fla. stats.).
the process for an involuntary evaluation
many people have heard a reference to someone who “acted like a baker”. It essentially means that a person has exhibited some extreme behavior that hints at mental illness, and without care or treatment, may result in harm to self or others.
Originally, the law permitted this involuntary confinement and evaluation only when the individual posed a threat to himself or others. recent amendments have expanded these grounds somewhat, but this is still the standard followed by most mental health facilities.
The initial determination can be made by one of three types of people:
- A court may issue an order stating that the person appears to meet the criteria and may order that person be transported to a facility for involuntary evaluation
- a law enforcement officer may detain a person who appears to meet the criteria and transport them to a facility for involuntary evaluation
- A physician, clinical psychologist, psychiatric nurse, mental health counselor, marriage and family therapist, or clinical social worker may issue a certificate indicating that they have evaluated the person within the last 48 hours and that the person appears to meet the criteria for involuntary assessment
- release the patient unconditionally
- discharge patient for voluntary outpatient treatment
- request the patient’s consent to be admitted for voluntary hospital treatment
- file a petition for involuntary commitment in the appropriate circuit court when inpatient or outpatient treatment is necessary, but the patient refuses to consent
See: Section 394.463 (2) (a) (1)-(3), Florida Statutes.
When a person is subject to involuntary screening, they can stay in a facility for up to 72 hours. During this time, doctors and counselors will examine and interview the patient to determine his mental status and the type and length of additional treatment he may need, including additional involuntary commitment. this does not mean that if a patient is screened and found to be dischargeable early, the patient can still be held for 72 hours.
installation must, within 72 hours, do one of the following:
See: Section 394. 463 (2) (i) (1)-(4), Florida Statutes.
how to release a client
The facility is not the only entity with the ability to engage the court system. A patient or the patient’s guardian may file a petition for writ of habeas corpus requesting a hearing regarding release from involuntary commitment. forms for this are usually available to patients at the facility. Otherwise, an attorney can prepare and file a writ of habeas corpus as needed.
Prior to filing a petition, legal counsel may participate during the 72-hour period and obtain the patient’s discharge before the facility applies to the court system for permission to extend the confinement. As noted above, the prevailing test is often whether the detainee is a danger to themselves or others.
In our experience, the mere presence of an attorney along with family members lets the facility know that there is a support system in place that will address the patient’s needs. this means that a family’s plans to address facility concerns through voluntary treatment or active family involvement can be very effective.
The Baker Act specifically states that confinement is not appropriate when any apparent harm “can be avoided with the help of willing family or friends. . . .” Section 394.463(1)(b)(1), Florida Statutes. Your clients should know that hiring an attorney is one of the best ways to signal to the facility that they really want to be released.
As attorneys, it is essential to stay abreast of changes in laws and legislation to meet the ever-changing needs of clients. Being aware of any changes in the law that may occur in the future, as well as current growing trends, can help you better understand how to best represent your clients.