Criminal Defense

Understanding the 5150 Hold in California

July 09, 2023 by Seppi Esfandi in Criminal Defense  Special Report  
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Introduction to the 5150 Hold

The 5150 hold, named after the corresponding section of the California Welfare and Institutions Code, refers to a legal provision that allows for the temporary involuntary detention and evaluation of individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. This hold serves as a means to ensure the safety and well-being of individuals who may pose a threat to themselves or others due to their mental health condition. The 5150 hold is an essential tool in providing timely intervention and access to mental health services for those who may be unable or unwilling to seek help voluntarily.

Criteria for a 5150 Hold

To be eligible for a 5150 hold in California, an individual must meet specific criteria. There are three primary criteria that warrant a 5150 hold: posing a danger to oneself, posing a danger to others, or being gravely disabled. These criteria serve as a basis for determining whether an individual’s mental health condition requires immediate intervention and evaluation.

The first criterion, posing a danger to oneself, involves situations where an individual exhibits behaviors or expresses intentions that indicate a risk of self-harm or suicide. This criterion recognizes the need for intervention to prevent potential harm or loss of life.

The second criterion, posing a danger to others, applies to situations where an individual’s behavior or statements indicate a threat or potential harm to other people. This criterion acknowledges the importance of safeguarding the well-being and safety of others.

The third criterion, being gravely disabled, refers to individuals who are unable to provide for their basic needs, such as food, clothing, or shelter, due to their mental health condition. This criterion addresses situations where an individual’s mental health impairs their ability to care for themselves, thereby necessitating intervention to ensure their well-being.

Initiating a 5150 Hold

The authority to initiate a 5150 hold lies with specific individuals who are trained and authorized to make such decisions. In California, peace officers, certified mental health professionals, and licensed members of crisis teams can initiate a 5150 hold. When encountering a mental health crisis, it is essential to take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of the individual and those around them.

If you are faced with a mental health crisis involving someone you know, there are several steps you can take to provide support and potentially initiate a 5150 hold:

Have crisis hotlines and emergency care contacts readily available: It is crucial to have access to contact information for psychiatric emergency care and crisis hotlines. These resources can provide guidance and direct you to the appropriate channels for assistance.

Maintain a written history of the individual’s condition: If the crisis involves someone with a documented mental health condition, having a written history of their condition, including previous episodes or treatment, can provide valuable information to emergency responders or healthcare professionals.

Contact emergency services (911) if immediate safety is at risk: If the crisis situation puts you or the individual in immediate danger, contacting emergency services is essential. The trained professionals who respond to the call can assess the situation and determine the appropriate course of action, which may include initiating a 5150 hold if deemed necessary.

Remove potential weapons from the environment: If it is safe to do so, remove any items that could be used as weapons from the immediate vicinity. This precautionary step helps minimize the risk of harm to the individual and others involved.

Ensure personal safety: If the individual’s behavior poses a threat to your safety, seek refuge in a locked room until help arrives. Your safety is paramount, and taking precautions to protect yourself is essential.

It is important to remember that only authorized individuals, such as peace officers and certified mental health professionals, can officially initiate a 5150 hold. Their expertise and training enable them to assess the situation and make informed decisions regarding the need for intervention.

The Process of a 5150 Hold

When a 5150 hold is initiated, the individual experiencing the mental health crisis is transported to a designated mental health facility for evaluation and inpatient care. The process involves several key steps to ensure a thorough assessment and the provision of appropriate care:

Transportation to a mental health facility: Following the initiation of a 5150 hold, the individual is transported by peace officers or authorized personnel to a mental health facility. The transportation process is conducted with the individual’s safety and well-being in mind and may involve specialized vehicles or protocols to ensure safe passage.

Intake and evaluation procedures: Upon arrival at the mental health facility, the individual undergoes an intake process that includes a comprehensive evaluation of their mental health condition. Mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists and clinicians, conduct interviews and assessments to gather information about the individual’s current state and history.

Rights and advocacy during the 5150 hold: Throughout the duration of the 5150 hold, individuals have certain rights that must be upheld. California Welfare and Institutions Code 5325 outlines these rights, which include being informed of the reason for the hold, the right to receive visitors, and the ability to communicate with legal counsel. Advocacy services are available to ensure that the individual’s rights are respected and that they receive appropriate care during their stay.

The purpose of the evaluation and assessment during the 5150 hold is to determine the individual’s mental health status, identify any immediate risks, and develop a treatment plan tailored to their needs. This process is conducted by a team of mental health professionals who specialize in crisis intervention and stabilization.

Duration and Extensions of a 5150 Hold

The standard duration of a 5150 hold in California is 72 hours, starting from the time the individual is first detained. During this period, mental health professionals continually assess, evaluate, and provide crisis intervention as needed. The goal is to stabilize the individual’s mental health condition and determine the most appropriate course of action for their ongoing care.

In some cases, mental health professionals may petition for an extended hold beyond the initial 72 hours. This extended hold, known as a 5250 hold, can be sought if the individual’s condition remains unstable or if there are concerns about their safety or the safety of others. The 5250 hold allows for an additional 14 days of involuntary detention, during which intensive treatment and evaluation are conducted.

To challenge the necessity of an extended hold, individuals have the right to a certification review hearing. This hearing provides an opportunity to present evidence and arguments against the extension of the hold. The hearing must be held within four days of the notification of the 5250 hold, ensuring due process and the opportunity to contest the continuation of involuntary detainment.

Implications and Consequences of a 5150 Hold

A 5150 hold has significant implications and consequences, both during and after the hold period. It is important to be aware of these implications to fully understand the impact of a 5150 hold on the individual and their future:

Temporary firearm removal and prohibitions: When a 5150 hold is initiated, there is a provision that allows for the temporary removal of firearms or other deadly weapons from the individual’s possession. This measure is taken to ensure the safety of the individual and others involved. Additionally, the initiation of a 5150 hold does not confer a permanent firearm prohibition, but it may lead to further legal actions to restrict firearm ownership if deemed necessary.

Impact on future firearm ownership: In California, if an individual is officially admitted to a designated inpatient facility for danger to themselves or others, they are prohibited from purchasing or owning firearms for a period of five years. If an individual is admitted for dangerousness twice within a one-year period, the prohibition becomes indefinite under California law. These firearm prohibitions are in line with federal regulations and are intended to reduce the risk of harm associated with individuals experiencing mental health crises.

Other mental health-related prohibitions: In addition to firearm prohibitions, other mental health-related prohibitions may arise from different legal processes. For example, individuals placed under a mental health conservatorship by a court or ordered to involuntary outpatient treatment may also face restrictions on firearm ownership. It is important to understand these prohibitions and the criteria that trigger them to ensure compliance with the law.

Alternatives to the 5150 Hold

While the 5150 hold serves as an important tool for addressing mental health crises, there are also alternative approaches to consider. These alternatives may provide individuals with options for seeking help voluntarily or receiving the necessary care and support without the need for an involuntary hold:

Voluntary mental health treatment: Encouraging individuals to seek help voluntarily is often the preferred approach when possible. Access to mental health services, therapy, and support groups can be instrumental in managing mental health challenges and preventing crises. Promoting a culture of open dialogue and reducing stigma surrounding mental health can help individuals feel more comfortable seeking help when needed.

Mental health conservatorship: In cases where individuals are unable to make informed decisions regarding their mental health treatment, a mental health conservatorship may be considered. This legal arrangement allows a designated adult to make decisions on behalf of the individual, ensuring they receive the necessary care and support. Mental health conservatorships are subject to legal processes and oversight to protect the rights and well-being of the individual.

Involuntary outpatient treatment: In some situations, individuals may benefit from involuntary outpatient treatment, such as under Laura’s Law in California. Involuntary outpatient treatment involves court-ordered mental health treatment while allowing the individual to live in the community. This approach aims to provide support and monitoring while minimizing the need for inpatient care.

It is essential to explore these alternatives and understand their implications to ensure individuals receive the most appropriate care and support for their mental health needs.

Legal Considerations and Rights

Navigating the complexities of the 5150 hold and mental health care system often requires legal guidance and advocacy. Mental health attorneys play a vital role in protecting individuals’ rights, ensuring due process, and offering legal representation throughout the process. Some key legal considerations and rights to be aware of include:

The role of attorneys: Mental health attorneys specialize in the legal aspects of mental health care and can provide guidance, advice, and representation to individuals and their families. They can help navigate the legal processes involved in the 5150 hold, certification review hearings, and other related matters.

Due process and legal representation: Individuals subject to a 5150 hold have the right to due process, which includes the opportunity to challenge the hold and present evidence at certification review hearings. Legal representation can ensure that the individual’s rights are protected and that their perspective is effectively communicated during these proceedings.

Challenging the necessity of a 5150 hold: If an individual believes that the 5150 hold was initiated in error or is no longer necessary, they have the right to challenge the hold through the certification review hearing. Mental health attorneys can assist in preparing a case, gathering evidence, and presenting arguments to contest the extension or continuation of involuntary detainment.

Seeking legal guidance from a mental health attorney can help individuals and their families navigate the legal complexities of the 5150 hold and ensure that their rights and interests are protected throughout the process.

Resources and Support

Accessing resources and support is vital when dealing with mental health crises and the implications of a 5150 hold. Several organizations and services are available to provide assistance, guidance, and advocacy. Some key resources to consider include:

Crisis hotlines and emergency care contacts: Crisis hotlines, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, provide immediate support and guidance during mental health crises. These hotlines can connect individuals to trained professionals who can offer assistance and direct them to appropriate resources.

Mental health advocacy organizations: Organizations dedicated to mental health advocacy can provide valuable information, support, and resources for individuals and their families. These organizations work to raise awareness, reduce stigma, and promote policies that support mental health care access and rights.

Seeking professional legal guidance: When dealing with the legal aspects of a 5150 hold or mental health care, consulting with a mental health attorney is highly recommended. Mental health attorneys specialize in this area of law and can provide essential guidance, representation, and advocacy to individuals and their families.

It is important to reach out to these resources and support systems to ensure that individuals receive the assistance and care they need during and after a 5150 hold.


Understanding the intricacies of the 5150 hold in California is crucial for individuals, families, and communities. The 5150 hold serves as a means to intervene in mental health crises and provide individuals with the necessary evaluation and care to ensure their safety and well-being. By familiarizing yourself with the criteria, process, and implications of a 5150 hold, you can better support those in need and navigate the mental health care system effectively.

Remember, seeking legal guidance from a qualified attorney and accessing available resources and support are essential steps to protect rights, promote well-being, and ensure individuals receive the necessary care during and after a 5150 hold. By working together, we can create a society that prioritizes mental health, reduces stigma, and provides appropriate care and support for all.

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