Civil Commitment in Minnesota

Showing support in group therapy - mental health help and civil commitment concept.

Mental illness is very common and affects one out of every five adults during their lifetime. In many cases, individuals who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses can recover with the proper treatment and support. However, there are certain situations where a court might deem it necessary to issue an involuntary commitment order.

If you are facing civil commitment in Minnesota, it’s crucial to be aware that you have legal rights that should be exercised. While the civil commitment process is meant to treat those with mental illnesses when they aren’t willing to seek treatment voluntarily, courts are required to explore less restrictive alternatives. There are strict criteria for establishing civil commitment and determining when it is appropriate.

What is Civil Commitment in Minnesota?

Civil commitment in Minnesota refers to involuntary court-ordered treatment for individuals who are chemically dependent, suffer mental illness, or have developmental disabilities. While Minnesota law prefers voluntary admission to treatment facilities, there may be situations in which a court deems civil commitment necessary to prevent a substantial likelihood of physical harm — whether to the individual themselves or others.

What is the Process for Civil Commitment?

Under Minnesota Statute, 253B.09, an individual may be involuntarily committed by the state if it can be proven by clear and convincing evidence that they pose a risk of harm due to mental illness, chemical dependency, or developmental disability. There is a specific process that must be adhered to by law, which is comprised of the following steps:

  • Pre-petition screening — The civil commitment process begins with a pre-petition screening. Anyone can request that the county conduct an investigation regarding whether an individual should be committed for treatment. However, before a petition is filed, it must be reviewed by a county pre-petition screening team to determine whether you meet the criteria for commitment. Pre-petition screening includes a personal interview, an investigation into the alleged conduct that would justify commitment, gathering information regarding your medication, and exploring less restrictive alternatives.
  • Filing a petition — Any interested person may file a petition for commitment, except an individual who took part in the pre-petition screening team. The petition can be filed in the district court where you are present, or in the county that bears financial responsibility. Typically it is a hospital who petitions for commitment.
  • The preliminary hearing — Once the petition has been filed, the court may order a “judicial hold” that extends the time for confinement. Within 72 hours of the judicial hold, a preliminary hearing must be conducted where the judge will decide whether it is necessary to continue the hold to the commitment hearing. If the court believes that you pose a threat of serious physical harm to yourself or others if you aren’t confined, it may order the hold to be extended.
  • The commitment hearing — Prior to the commitment hearing, a court appointed physician or psychologist must conduct an examination. You also have the right to select a doctor of your choice and have a second examination performed. The hearing is required to be held within 14 days from the date the petition was filed but may be extended an additional 30 days. An immediate hearing may be held within five business days upon demand, but the court may grant an additional 10 days if good cause exists.

Although your attendance is not required, you have the right to be present at the hearing, introduce evidence, and provide testimony. However, a court may exclude you if the judge deems you will be seriously disruptive or cannot comprehend the proceedings. If you choose to participate, your ability to do so must not be impeded by medication.

Less Restrictive Alternatives to Civil Commitment

For those who are suffering mental illness, chemical dependency, or are developmentally disabled, civil commitment isn’t the only option that should be considered. In fact, under the statute, the court is required to consider alternative treatment programs that would be less restrictive than commitment.

Alternative treatment options may include the following:

  • Community-based nonresidential treatment
  • Community residential treatment
  • Partial hospitalization
  • Acute hospital care
  • Assertive community treatment teams
  • State-operated treatment programs

A judge is also required to consider a patient’s preferences for treatment and willingness to participate in the treatment ordered. A court is not permitted to commit you to a facility that cannot meet your specific needs. It’s critical to work with an attorney who is skilled in representing clients regarding these matters to ensure your rights are protected throughout the proceedings.

Contact an Experienced Attorney to Guide You Through the Process

The civil commitment process can be emotionally overwhelming — and there is a lot at stake. Attorney Dave Burns works closely with individuals who are the subject of civil commitment proceedings and is dedicated to upholding their rights. A member of the Commitment Defense Project, Dave regularly tries cases on behalf of people with mental illness in probate court and provides private counsel to those who are facing these proceedings. If you or a family member is facing civil commitment, contact Dave Burns Law Office for a consultation by calling (612) 677-8351 or emailing I assist clients throughout the Twin Cities metro area and am available to meet with clients in both Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Categories: Probate

The Dave Burns Law Office hopes you find this article helpful. But please do not rely on it as legal advice. The law changes regularly and the outcome of any legal matter depends on its unique circumstances. View full disclaimer