The involuntary civil commitment process in Colorado allows police or medical professionals to detain someone in certain situations. The goal of this emergency detention is to protect someone who is suffering from mental problems. The detention can last for up to 72 hours. It can turn into a longer treatment after a court hearing. People cannot be held in jail during this time. Instead, they have to be evaluated and treated for their mental health condition.
Example: Margaret threatens to commit suicide. Police make emergency detention and commit her to the hospital.
In this article, our Colorado criminal defense attorneys will explain:
- 1. What is the involuntary civil commitment process?
- 2. When can there be an emergency detention?
- 3. What happens during an involuntary civil commitment?
- 4. How long does involuntary civil commitment last?
- 5. What happens if the psychologist recommends further treatment?
1. What is the involuntary civil commitment process?
The involuntary civil commitment process allows police and some other people to make a civil arrest. This civil arrest is often called an emergency detention. Emergency detentions aim to keep mentally unstable people from causing harm. The law that allows this is CRS 27-65-105.1
There are only a few circumstances that allow for an emergency detention. If one of these situations exists, you can be detained against your will. Police are not the only people who can make an emergency detention. The civil commitment process does not bring you to jail, though. Instead, it brings you to a mental health facility or hospital.
Once there, you get evaluated by a mental health professional. The detention is only temporary. Once it is over, you are released from the facility. You will often be referred to outpatient care. If the mental health professional still thinks you are a risk, they can request a court to commit you for longer.
2. When can there be an emergency detention?
Under CRS 27-65-105(1), an emergency detention can only happen in two situations:
- Someone seems to have a mental health disorder and poses an imminent danger, and
- A judge signs an affidavit that someone seems to have a mental health disorder and poses an imminent danger.
To put someone in emergency detention, there needs to be probable cause that they need help.2 Requiring probable cause protects your due process rights.3
2.1. Who can make an emergency detention?
Only certain people can start the involuntary civil commitment process. These people are listed in CRS 27-65-105(1)(a)(II). They include:
- A certified peace officer, including a police officer,
- Anyone with a medical license,
- A licensed psychologist,
- A licensed nurse with experience in psychiatric or mental health,
- A licensed marriage or family therapist with mental health experience,
- A professional counselor with mental health experience,
- An addiction counselor with experience evaluating mental health disorders, and
- A licensed clinical social worker.
2.2. Where can the detained person be held?
The involuntary civil commitment process can bring someone to a medical facility. This facility has to be approved for emergency detentions.
In some cases, there is no available medical facility approved for civil commitments. In these cases, the emergency detention has to bring the person to the emergency room.
If you have been involuntary committed, you cannot be brought to jail. CRS 27-65-105(2) makes this very clear. It also prohibits bringing you anywhere that is used to hold criminal suspects. This includes a holding cell or lockup.
3. What happens during an involuntary civil commitment?
If you have been committed against your will, you will be brought to a treatment facility. Once there, you will go through the admission process. Once you are admitted, you will receive a mental health evaluation as soon as possible.
Over the course of the next 72 hours, you will receive care from a mental health professional. During that time, the psychologist will try to determine what kind of care you need. They can do one of three things:
- Decide that you do not need the full 72 hours of treatment. If they decide you do not need further care, you will be released.
- Provide 72 hours of treatment and then release you. You will often be referred to outpatient services for additional care. This treatment is voluntary.
- Provide 72 hours of treatment and then recommend a short-term commitment. The short-term commitment involves further inpatient care. This hospital stay can last up to 3 months. This decision triggers a court process under CRS 27-65-107.
Shortly after your release, you will be provided with a copy of your admission documents. These documents detail what happened that led to your commitment. These documents will include information about:
- Why you were the subject of an emergency detention,
- Who made the emergency detention and why they chose to make one,
- When the detention occurred, and
- Who, if anyone, called the police about your mental condition.
4. How long does involuntary civil commitment last?
An involuntary civil commitment can only last 72 hours, or 3 days. That does not include weekends, holidays, or any day that treatment is not available.
However, the psychologist providing treatment can recommend further care. If they think you are gravely disabled or are a threat to yourself or others, they can certify you for more treatment. If you do not agree to this treatment, it will trigger a court process under CRS 27-65-107. If you get certified for more care, it can last up to 3 months.
Involuntary civil commitment can also be cut short. If the psychologist treating you thinks you are not a threat, you can be released before 72 hours pass.
5. What happens if the psychologist recommends further treatment?
If the treating psychologist thinks you are a risk, they can recommend further care. If you do not consent to it, they can certify you for short-term care. They can also certify you if you consent, but they think you will not stay for the full treatment.
The recommendation for further care has to be filed in court within 48 hours. It also has to be filed and signed by the psychologist who made the decision. The recommendation has to give reasonable grounds to believe that:
- You are mentally ill, and
- You are either gravely disabled or a danger to yourself or others.
Someone is considered gravely disabled if they cannot care for their basic personal needs.4 Those daily needs include:
- Finding clothes to wear,
- Living inside, and
- Getting medical care.5
These problems have to be a present condition, not a potential one.6 You can also be gravely disabled if you are unable to make informed decisions about your life without significant supervision.7
You have to be provided with this recommendation within 24 hours. You can appoint someone to be informed of the certification process. You also have a right to a lawyer at the certification hearing.
The certification hearing happens at court. The hearing is required, or else your due process rights can be violated.8 The psychologist pushing for further treatment has to show that it is necessary. The court can appoint another mental health expert to testify. The judge or jury will only certify you if they think there is clear and convincing evidence that further treatment is needed. Only then can you be certified for up to 3 months against your will.
The involuntary civil commitment statute used to be C.R.S. § 27-10-105. It was moved to C.R.S. § 27-65-105 in 2010.
Interest of Paiz, 603 P.2d 976 (Colo. App. 1979) (“probable cause should not be measured by the yardstick of legal technicality, but by the factual and practical considerations upon which a reasonable physician acts… as one of its dimensions, the physician's training and experience may be considered.”).
People in Interest of Bucholz, Supra.
C.R.S. § 27-65-102(9).