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Involuntary Detention

A person can be detained and treated involuntarily under the criteria presented in WIC sections 5150, 5250, 5260, 5300, 5352.1, 5350, and 4011.6.

Under WIC 5150 a person may be involuntarily taken to a mental health facility for psychiatric evaluation. This evaluation can last up to 72 hours. During this period, only a doctor may discharge the person.

These are the three criteria that meet the requirements for involuntary detention:

  1. The person presents a danger to him/herself.
  2. The person presents a danger to others.
  3. The person is incapacitated to the point of being gravely disabled. That means the person cannot provide for their own food, clothing, and/or shelter, or cannot make use of the food, clothing, and shelter available to him/her.


One or any combination of the above may be reason for detaining an individual for an evaluation.

These criteria apply only as a result of mental disorder.

After the 72 hour evaluation period, a psychiatrist may petition for treatment up to an additional 14 days. The psychiatrist must file a "5250" or "certification for up to fourteen days of intensive psychiatric treatment” with superior court. By law the client must receive a copy of this certification.

The client is then entitled to an automatic hearing called a certification review hearing. This hearing is informal and a Patients ‘Rights advocate from the Patients’ Rights Advocacy office represents the client. Hearings are conducted at the different facilities on Tuesdays and Fridays, and are presided over by court appointed hearing officers.

At any point during an involuntary detention, a person may request a writ of habeas corpus. This is not automatic, and a request must be filed with the public defender. In Alameda County, hearings are on Tuesdays and Fridays as well. A flow chart outlining involuntary detentions is included as an aid for comprehension.

It is important to remember that at any point, during a 14 day hold a person may be discharged based on physician's discretion. A certification can last UP to fourteen days.

There are three ways a person may be released from an involuntary detention:

  1. Doctor discharge.
  2. Offer of voluntary status, then sign-out against medical advice.
  3. Release from the hold by the court.
  4. Upon conclusion of a 14-day hold, if the doctor still believes the client is gravely disabled, the doctor may file for "temporary conservatorship". Notice of this filing must be given to the patient. This legal hold can last up to 30 days (unless it is agreed by the court that it may be longer, or "continuous", for specific legal reasons). If the person objects, then a writ of habeas corpus can be filed.
  5. The patient has the right to contest this continued hold via a writ of habeas corpus. WIC 5275 states that if a person requests release from the facility, staff are obliged to take the measures designed to bring the client's request before a court of law. This means helping the person file a request to the public defender's office.

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