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Every patient has the right to a Baker Act lawyer when they are held at a facility for the 72-hour involuntary examination. Additionally, they have the right to communicate with their attorney at any “reasonable time”. A Baker Act lawyer can be of great assistance to the patient and their family in establishing a legal presence during the time the individual is kept at the psychiatric hospital and afterwards. Many people are not given full information about their right to an attorney as well as their right to file a Habeas Corpus (a legal request to find out why they are being detained).
The following is excerpted from the Florida law on Baker Act:
394.459 Rights of patients.— (4) QUALITY OF TREATMENT.— (c) Each facility must permit immediate access to any patient, subject to the patient’s right to deny or withdraw consent at any time, by the patient’s family members, guardian, guardian advocate, representative, Florida statewide or local advocacy council, or attorney, unless such access would be detrimental to the patient. If a patient’s right to communicate or to receive visitors is restricted by the facility, written notice of such restriction and the reasons for the restriction shall be served on the patient, the patient’s attorney, and the patient’s guardian, guardian advocate, or representative; and such restriction shall be recorded on the patient’s clinical record with the reasons therefor. The restriction of a patient’s right to communicate or to receive visitors shall be reviewed at least every 7 days. The right to communicate or receive visitors shall not be restricted as a means of punishment. Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed to limit the provisions of paragraph (d).
(d) Each facility shall establish reasonable rules governing visitors, visiting hours, and the use of telephones by patients in the least restrictive possible manner. Patients shall have the right to contact and to receive communication from their attorneys at any reasonable time.
Too often, an individual is placed under the Baker Act without the understanding of why they were brought into the facility against their will. As a patient under an involuntary hold, they do not have the right to get up and leave whenever they wish. A physician, a psychiatrist, must certify that they are “okay” to be discharged. Therefore, having a Baker Act lawyer may prove to be helpful. There are not a lot of lawyers in Florida who specialize in the Baker Act law, so it may be beneficial to speak with a human rights advocate to see if you need an attorney and if you do, to give you a list of those lawyers who might be able to take your case.
In addition to the involuntary status, under the Baker Act, there is the voluntary status. Sometimes individuals admit themselves if they are, currently, taking mental health medication and experiencing an adverse reaction that warrants medical care. Some patients who are brought in on an involuntary basis are told that if they sign “voluntary” they will be released sooner. This is not what the Florida Statute on the The Baker Act Statute says.
Florida Statute 394.4625 (2) DISCHARGE OF VOLUNTARY PATIENTS.— states: (a) A facility shall discharge a voluntary patient: 2. Who revokes consent to admission or requests discharge. A voluntary patient or a relative, friend, or attorney of the patient may request discharge either orally or in writing at any time following admission to the facility. The patient must be discharged within 24 hours of the request, unless the request is rescinded or the patient is transferred to involuntary status pursuant to this section. The 24-hour time period may be extended by a treatment facility when necessary for adequate discharge planning, but shall not exceed 3 days exclusive of weekends and holidays. If the patient, or another on the patient’s behalf, makes an oral request for discharge to a staff member, such request shall be immediately entered in the patient’s clinical record. If the request for discharge is made by a person other than the patient, the discharge may be conditioned upon the express and informed consent of the patient.
Therefore, it is clear that under “voluntary status, the patient when requesting to leave, is either discharged or the psychiatrist will petition for the patient to be placed under involuntary status.
A Baker Act lawyer can help you to sort through your particular situation and all the details of your circumstances and help to file appropriate legal paperwork. A Mental Health Rights advocate can help to answer your questions with factual information that assists you in asserting your rights and can give you a list of attorneys to speak to if you are in need of one.