California’s mental health laws are intended to protect those experiencing mental illness from harming themselves or others. Sometimes, a single bad moment can lead to long battles with the court system and extended stays in a mental health facility. If you or a loved one is in a mental health facility, it is crucial that you know your rights and when you can leave that facility.
For clarity, support, and legal protection, call an experienced mental health lawyer.
Can I Leave a Facility if I Entered Voluntarily?
Under California WIC 6000, an adult who enters a mental facility voluntarily can leave “at
any time by giving notice of his desire to leave to any member of the hospital staff and completing normal hospitalization departure procedures.” If you are under a conservatorship, your conservator will give that notice.
For minors who are in the facility voluntarily, a parent, guardian, conservator, or other custodial figure can provide notice on the minor’s behalf. If the minor turns 18 while under voluntary care, they can provide notice themselves.
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Can I Leave a Facility if I Am There on a 5150?
A 5150 is an emergency 72-hour involuntary hold in a mental health facility. Only police officers and authorized mental health professionals can issue 5150 holds, and can only place you under one if they believe you are a danger to yourself, a danger to others, or are gravely disabled because of mental illness and cannot provide for your needs of food, shelter, or clothing.
If you are put in a hospital under a 5150, you cannot leave before the 72 hours are up unless, after observing and assessing your condition, the facility sees fit to discharge you.
What if the 5150 Hold Is Unwarranted?
You have the right to speak with a patient or legal advocate. If you believe you have been put under a hold unnecessarily or even illegally, call a mental health attorney as soon as possible upon your admission to the facility. Your attorney will represent your interests and work to protect you from potential additional holds.
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What Happens at the End of a 5150?
At the end of a 5150 hold, you will face three possible outcomes:
- You will be discharged from the facility
- You will sign on for continued voluntary in-patient treatment
- You will be notified of the hospital’s request to extend your involuntary treatment under a 14-day 5250 hold. If you receive this notification, you can challenge the request in a Certification Review Hearing that must occur within four days of that notice.
The hearing is automatic. You do not have to request it. To ensure your voice is heard and your rights are protected, have an experienced mental health lawyer represent you at the Certification Review Hearing. Your lawyer can challenge the facility’s claims and offer evidence to support your release.
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Can I Leave if I Disagree with the Outcome of the Certification Review Hearing?
At the hearing, a neutral party or “referee” will listen to the evidence and determine if the 5250 hold is warranted. If this party rules for the hold, you may file a Writ of Habeas Corpus to challenge the ruling in court. Your mental health lawyer will handle the filing for you and help you prepare and collect evidence for the trial if it is granted.
Unlike the Certification Review Hearing, Habeas Corpus hearings are not automatic or guaranteed. You cannot leave the facility as you await trial. If the trial is not granted, you must remain in the facility for the full 14 days unless your doctors believe an early release is in your best interests.
Can I Leave a Facility if I Sign on for Voluntary Treatment After a 5150 Ends?
If you sign on for continued voluntary treatment at the end of the 5150 hold, you have the same rights as any voluntary patient and can leave the facility upon giving notice to a member of the facility’s staff.
Can I Leave the Facility if Placed on a 5250 Hold?
When placed on a 5250 hold, you cannot leave the facility until and unless your doctors discharge you. Your doctors will pursue this hold if they believe you remain a danger to yourself or to others or are gravely disabled. A 5250 hold is a 14-day, court-ordered, involuntary hold during which you receive intensive treatment.
Can I Leave a Facility at the End of a 5250 Hold?
There are several potential outcomes at the end of a 14-day 5250 hold:
- You may be released by staff.
- You may experience early release as the result of a Certification Review Hearing or Habeas Corpus Hearing.
- You sign on for continued voluntary treatment.
- Your doctors request an additional involuntary hold–a 5260, 5300, or 5270.
- You are referred for a conservatorship.
If you sign on for continued voluntary treatment, you can leave at any time upon notifying a member of the facility’s staff. The 5260 is a “re-certification” 14-day hold. The 5300 is a 14-day hold for suicidal patients, and the 5270 is a 30-day hold for patients who are gravely disabled.
If I Was Sentenced to a Facility Under an Insanity Defense, When Can I Leave?
If you committed a crime and are found not guilty by the reason of insanity, the court will have you committed to a mental health facility rather than issuing the prison sentence you would have received without the insanity defense. The commitment is intended to offer you rehabilitation and to protect society from additional harm.
Under this commitment, you cannot leave the mental health facility on your own. Your release will come if and when:
- Doctors believe your sanity has been restored
- The maximum prison sentence for that crime has passed
- Doctors determine out-patient treatment would best serve your needs
A Mental Health Attorney Can Help You
It is important to know and protect your rights as a mental health patient. However, navigating mental health laws and understanding those rights is extremely challenging, especially in high-stress situations. Fortunately, you have access to an experienced, compassionate mental health lawyer who can handle these challenges for you and pursue outcomes that serve your needs and uphold your rights.
You do not have to fight alone. We are here for you.