- WHAT IS A CIVIL COMMITMENT?
A civil commitment is a court order that requires a mentally ill, drug dependent or alcohol dependent person to get mental health treatment, when that person cannot or will not get treatment on their own. A commitment order can last for up to 6 months (though that can be extended later) and may require the person to get either inpatient or outpatient treatment.
To qualify for a civil commitment, the person must meet all three of the following conditions:
- mentally ill, drug dependent or alcohol dependent;
- medically treatable; and
- a danger to himself/herself or others.
There are different ways a civil commitment case can get started.
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- Police and other law enforcement officers can detain a mentally ill, drug dependent, or alcohol dependent person who is actively dangerous to himself/herself or others by a process called Emergency Detention.
- Hospital medical directors can file Emergency Detention petitions for patients who originally went into the hospital for treatment voluntarily.
- In non-emergency situations, concerned family members, friends, and other members of the public can start a civil commitment case through a process called a Three-Party Petition.
- WHAT IS A THREE-PARTY PETITION?
A Three-Party Petition is a legal document claiming that a person meets all three criteria for civil commitment (mentally ill or drug dependent, treatable and dangerous). The petition must include notarized statements from three adults that describe the person’s dangerous or violent behavior. All three statements must tell about events that the witnesses have personally seen within the past 60 days leading up to the petition.
NOTE: A Three-Party Petition for an alcohol dependent person also must have sworn statements from three adult eyewitnesses to the person’s dangerous or violent behavior, but the petition follows slightly different rules. If you are trying to start a Three-Party Petition for an alcohol dependent person, you should still send in a screening form. Our office will explain the differences in the process when we contact you.
A Three-Party Petition IS NOT:
- a quick process you can use in emergencies
- something you can file on your own
- a way to help someone with a permanent mental disability that cannot be improved with treatment (such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, developmental disabilities, or traumatic brain injuries)
- a way to help someone who is mentally ill but not dangerous
- a guarantee that the person will be committed
- something you can file anonymously or without the person knowing you signed it
By law, all Three-Party Petitions for people who live in Milwaukee County MUST be filed by the Milwaukee County Office of Corporation Counsel. The Milwaukee County Office of Corporation Counsel CANNOT file Three-Party Petitions for people who live in other counties.
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- HOW DO I START A THREE-PARTY PETITION?
Anyone who wants to file a Three-Party Petition for someone who lives in Milwaukee County must first fill out a screening form and send it to the Office of Corporation Counsel for review and consideration. You can download the screening form (as a form-fillable PDF) HERE, or submit the screening form HERE.
Please fill the questionnaire out carefully and in as much detail as possible. Only list incidents that you personally saw within the past 60 days, not older incidents or incidents you heard about from other people. Make sure to include the following information:
- When and where did each incident happen? (If you can’t remember the exact date, saying “on or around” a date is fine.)
- Has the person been carrying or hoarding weapons?
- Did the person hurt or try to hurt another person?
- Did the person hurt or try to hurt himself/herself?
- Did the person make specific threats to harm themselves or another person/other people? (Include the words they used if possible.)
- Did the person do something that put themselves or someone else in danger indirectly? (Examples: running out into traffic, starting a fire inside a house, leaving dangerous items where children can get at them)
- Has the person been forgetting or refusing to eat, shower, change clothes, wear weather-appropriate clothes when going outside, take medication/get treatment they need for a medical condition, or otherwise take care of their basic needs?
- Is the person living somewhere outdoors, unsanitary, unheated, abandoned or unsafe? (Include photos if possible.)
Behavior from the person that was irrational, angry, or loud but not violent/threatening is not enough for a Three-Party Petition to succeed. Remember, your goal is to show us (and later, a court) that the person is dangerous.
If you are in an emergency situation, call 911.
Completed questionnaires can be emailed to CorporationCounsel3PartyPetitions@milwaukeecountywi.gov, or mailed to:
Office of Corporation Counsel
901 N. 9th Street, Room 303
Milwaukee, WI 53233
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- AFTER I SEND IN THE FORM, WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Office of Corporation Counsel staff will review all screening forms and decide whether the facts meet the legal requirements for a Three-Party Petition. If the facts are not enough for a petition to succeed, our office will let you know why we cannot file a petition. If the office receives screening forms from three adults with facts that meet the legal standard, our office will contact you to arrange a meeting in our offices. All three petitioners must be at that meeting to complete, sign, and notarize the Three-Party Petition paperwork.
Please note that all petitioners must be willing and able to:
- Come to the Office of Corporation Counsel for a 2- to 3-hour appointment
- Be identified to the subject of the Three-Party Petition as a petitioner against them (you cannot stay anonymous)
- Testify at up to two court hearings within 21 days, likely on short notice
Once the petition is signed and approved by an attorney in the Office of Corporation Counsel, it will be filed in the Probate Division of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court. A judge or court commissioner will then review the petition and decide if it meets the legal standard. If the judge or court commissioner approves the petition, they will sign an Order telling the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department to find the person and take him or her to the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division at 9455 Watertown Plank Road, Wauwatosa.
NOTE: The Office of Corporation Counsel has no control over how long the Probate Division or the Sheriff’s Department take to act on a petition or order. Both departments have many other duties to perform and cannot guarantee an immediate response to a Three-Party Petition. Generally, the process between when the petition is signed and when the person is taken to the Behavioral Health Division takes about 10 working days (two weeks).
A probable cause hearing must be scheduled within 72 hours of when the person arrives at the Behavioral Health Division. Some or all of the petitioners may have to testify at this first hearing. An attorney will contact petitioners who need to come to the hearing less than 24 hours before the hearing is scheduled.
If the court finds probable cause to believe the claims in the petition, a final hearing will be set within 14 days of the person’s arrival at the Behavioral Health Division. Some or all of the petitioners may have to testify at this hearing also. At this final hearing, the court will decide whether to commit the person for involuntary treatment.
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- BUT THIS IS AN EMERGENCY! WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Three-Party Petitions are NOT designed to deal with emergencies. Police and other law enforcement officers have Emergency Detention power to start commitment proceedings against people who are actively dangerous to themselves or others. If the person becomes violent or threatens to hurt himself/herself or others at any time, even if you have already started the Three-Party Petition process, CALL 911. Emergency Detention is the quickest way to start the commitment process.
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- IS THE INFORMATION I GIVE TO THE OFFICE OF CORPORATION COUNSEL CONFIDENTIAL/PRIVILEGED?
While the Office of Corporation Counsel helps members of the public with Three-Party Petitions, petitioners are not Corporation Counsel clients. Any medical information that potential petitioners give the Office of Corporation Counsel is confidential. All other information given to the Office of Corporation Counsel—whether on the screening form, by phone, by email, or in person—is not confidential.
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- WHAT IF I HAVE OTHER QUESTIONS OR NEED HELP WITH THE SCREENING FORM?
You can contact the Office of Corporation Counsel’s Three-Party Petition team by phone or email.
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