Mental Health Cases - Civil

The Office of the Public Defender provides legal assistance to individuals who are subject to involuntary treatment or conservatorship proceedings due to mental retardation, mental illness or disorder, chronic alcoholism, or suicidal tendencies, and individuals otherwise classified as gravely disabled.


If you have been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital or other facility or are receiving involuntary treatment you are entitled to a series of hearings at which a hearing officer or judge will determine whether you continue to be gravely disabled. This gives you the right to attempt to limit that involuntary commitment at each successive period of increasingly long duration. These hearings proceed in the following manner:

Person, as a result of mental disorder, appears to be dangerous to self, others, or gravely disabled

W&I Section 5150 ("5150")
(Police, MH Professionals)

Court-Ordered Evaluation ("COE")
(anyone may file petition)

*** Up to 72 hour hold for evaluation ***

Mentally disordered person, dangerous to self, others, or gravely disabled, is considered to need up to 14 days additional intensive treatment:

Probable Cause Hearing within
7 days after detention
(Right to Hearing by Writ
continues after Probable Cause Hearing)

Right to Writ of Habeas Corpus
and Hearing

Probable Cause
Not Found,
Patient Released

for up to 14 days if Probable Cause Found



Person, as a result of mental disorder, continues to be:

Danger to Others    

Gravely Disabled    

Danger to Self

Petition for
up to 180 days

Petition for Conservatorship
by County Counsel
(additional 3-day grace period)

Second 14-Day
(if still suicidal)

Right to Court or Jury Trial for Release    

30-Day Temporary

Right to Writ
for Release

Up to
180 days

Conservatorship Hearing within 30 days; Right to Writ Hearing

for up to 14 Days

Additional 180 days
(if still a danger)

Right to Court Hearing or Jury Trial for Discontinuation of

Must Release
(unless remaining voluntarily)


Right to Re-Hearing at any time (and every 6 months thereafter for Discontinuation)



Re-Application for Conservatorship    



Gravely Disabled: A person is gravely disabled under the law if, as a result of a mental disorder or impairment by chronic alcoholism, he or she is unable to provide for his or her basic personal needs for food, clothing or shelter.

Probate Conservatorship: A probate conservatorship is a court proceeding to appoint a manager for the financial affairs or the personal care of one who is either physically or mentally unable to handle either or both. A probate conservator can be a family member or the Public Guardian.

LPS Conservatorship: An LPS conservatorship is a court proceeding to appoint the Public Guardian or family member as the manager of the financial or personal care of individuals who are gravely disabled due to mental illness, mental disorder or chronic alcoholism. A conservator has the power to place an individual in a locked psychiatric hospital or other facility if that is the least restrictive placement which will address the person's needs.

Public Guardian: The Public Guardian of Santa Clara County is the county agency appointed as the conservator in LPS conservatorships and in some Probate conservatorships.

Public Defender Representation

Attorneys and paralegals from the Public Defender regularly visit psychiatric hospitals and may be approached by any patient there. Additionally, a patient may call our office to speak with the Mental Health paralegal to calendar a court date to challenge a conservatorship. If you wish to reach this paralegal, please call the main office number at (408) 299-7700 or click here to view the staff directory.

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