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The Baker Act

The Florida Mental Health Act of 1971, commonly known as the “Baker Act,” allows for the involuntary civil commitment and examination of an individual and is found in Chapter 394 of the Florida Statutes.

The legislation was named the “Baker Act” after Florida State Representative Maxine Baker from Miami, who served from 1963 to 1972 in the Florida House of Representatives and had a strong interest in mental health issues.  Representative Baker served as chair of the House Committee on Mental Health and sponsored the bill in 1972.

The Baker Act allows for involuntary examination on an emergency basis and can be initiated by a judge, law enforcement official, physician, or mental health professional. There must be evidence that the person exhibits:

  • some behavior that can possibly be related to mental illness;
  • is in immediate danger of becoming a harm to himself or others, or is self-neglectful.

Both of these are defined in the Baker Act.

Examinations may last up to 72 hours after a person is deemed medically stable and can occur in a Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) designated receiving facility.

There are many possible outcomes following the examination of the patient. These include the release of the individual to the community (or other community placement), a petition for involuntary inpatient placement (often called civil commitment), involuntary outpatient placement (what some call outpatient commitment or assisted treatment orders), or voluntary treatment (if the person is competent to consent to voluntary treatment and consents to voluntary treatment). The involuntary outpatient placement language in the Baker Act took effect as part of the Baker Act reform in 2005.

What is a Baker Act Proceeding?

Florida’s Baker Act law is a means of providing individuals with emergency services and temporary detention for up to 72 hours for mental health examination pursuant to Florida Statute Chapter 394. The Baker Act DOES NOT guarantee long term placement for individuals.

To be eligible for an involuntary examination under the Baker Act, an individual must meet the following criteria:

  1. There is reason to believe that he or she is mentally ill, and because of his or her mental illness, the person has refused voluntary examination.
  2. The person is unable to determine for him or herself whether an examination is necessary, and without care or treatment, the person is likely to suffer from neglect or refuse to care for him or herself and such refusal could pose a threat of harm to his or her well being.
  3. There is a substantial likelihood that without care or treatment, the person will cause serious bodily harm to himself, herself, or others in the future as evidenced by recent behavior.

Who Can File a Petition for a Baker Act Examination?

The Petition may only be filed by:

  1. Any individual willing to swear in a Petition for Involuntary examination that you have personally witnessed an individual causing harm to themselves or others. An “Ex Parte” Petition for an Involuntary Examination can be completed and filed by the Petitioner. The term “ex parte” means that the Court will consider the petition without first serving it on the person sought to be Baker Acted. However, the Court may review the ex parte Petition, elect to schedule a subsequent hearing, and give notice to the person found to be Baker Acted.
  2. A law enforcement officer may transport an individual to a facility for examination if there is reason to believe that the individual’s behavior meets statutory guidelines for involuntary examination.
  3. A physician, clinical psychologist, psychiatric nurse, licensed clinical social worker, licensed marriage and family therapist, or licensed mental health counselor may execute a certificate stating that he or she has observed behavior that meets the Baker Act criteria in the past 48 hours.

If you are the legal guardian, health care surrogate, or hold a health care proxy for the person sought to be Baker acted, a copy of the above documentation should be attached or included in the Petition.

If the person sought to be involuntarily assessed or committed has health insurance coverage that may include mental health treatment, that information should be attached or included in the Petition.

What the Baker Act CAN DO:

  • The sworn Petition will be reviewed by the Court. If the Court believes, based on the evidence provided in the Petition, and/or after a hearing, that the named individual meets the above-stated criteria, the Judge will enter an order for law enforcement to pick up and transport the person to the nearest receiving facility.
  • Law enforcement will make every attempt to take the person into custody and transport the person to a receiving facility. If the person cannot be located, law enforcement will hold the order for seven (7) days and continue attempts to take the person into custody.
  • A law enforcement officer may serve and execute an Ex Parte order on any day of the week, at any time of the day or night, and may use such reasonable physical force as is necessary to gain entry to take custody of the person. However, the Order may only be implemented within the boundaries of Palm Beach County, Florida.
  • Designated receiving facilities must accept persons brought by law enforcement officers for involuntary examination.
  • Upon arrival at a receiving facility, a person must be examined without unnecessary delay by a clinical psychologist or a physician experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of mental and nervous disorders.

What the Baker Act CANNOT DO:

  • The Order for Involuntary Examination reflects that the legal criteria under Florida Statutes Chapter 394 has been met; however, the burden then shifts to the mental health experts to determine if the medical criteria exist to detain the person for more than 72 hours or release them earlier.
  • A person may not be detained in a facility for more than 72 hours, at the conclusion of this time period one (1) of the following must occur:
  • The person must be released unless charged with a crime; or
  • The person must be released; sometimes for outpatient treatment; or
  • The person must be asked to give express and informed consent to voluntary placement; or
  • A Petition for Involuntary Placement must be filed with the Circuit Court by the facility administrator. Under this alternative, the person will continue to be detained in the Facility until the involuntary placement hearing can occur.
  • A person shall not be released by the receiving facility without the documented approval of a psychiatrist or licensed psychologist.
  • Unless the examined person authorizes the release of information under Federal Law to you, the Facility may not be able to discuss the diagnosis, treatment, or status of the person.
  • If someone has been charged with a crime, depending on the charge, a Baker Act cannot prevent a person from being held in jail. If a person has been charged with a serious crime, they may be treated by the mental health unit at the county jail.
  • After the involuntary examination, if a person is deemed NOT to be a risk to themselves or others, the treatment facility MUST release the person.