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Civil Commitment Services

When someone is in danger of harming themselves or others, there are ways to help them, even if they’re not willing to seek it themselves. The State of Oregon has laws and procedures to step in when someone’s behavior suggests they need care, either for their safety or the safety of the community. Civil Commitment is the process where a judge decides if a person alleged to be mentally ill should be required to accept mental health treatment.

Civil Commitment can limit a person’s rights, even if they haven’t broken any laws, so meeting the criteria for civil commitment is challenging.

A judge needs to find, by clear and convincing evidence, that the person both has a mental illness and is not willing or able to voluntarily participate in treatment. Further, they must decide that because of the mental illness, the person is:

  • in imminent danger of harming themselves or others, or
  • unable to care for their own basic needs, like health and safety.
Click here to read additional criteria for persons who have been committed in the past.

A person may also be committed if the judge finds that the person:

  • is diagnosed with a major mental illness such as schizophrenia or manic-depression, and
  • has been committed and hospitalized twice in the last three years, and
  • is showing symptoms or behavior like those that preceded/led to a prior hospitalization and,
  • will continue (to a reasonable medical probability) to deteriorate without treatment, until they become a danger to self or others / unable to provide for basic needs.

“Imminent danger” means it is highly probable that this person or someone else will be seriously injured or die in the near future. The evidence of this can be anything that experts in the mental health field accept as community standard – thoughts, plans, means, actions, or other indicators. Also, there needs to be a direct link between the individual’s mental illness and their dangerousness.

A civil commitment is not a criminal conviction.
It will not go on anyone’s criminal record.

Notice of Mental Illness

The Civil Commitment process starts when someone submits a Notice of Mental Illness (NMI) to the court. Any two people who have firsthand knowledge of the alleged mentally ill person’s condition and their concerns of imminent danger can complete a Two-Party Petition*. That petition acts as the Notice of Mental Illness and starts a Pre-Commitment Investigation.

*Please be aware petitioners will need to sign this legal document and have it notarized. Notary services are available at the courthouse or at our Mobile Crisis Services office.

Click here to see other ways the Civil Commitment process may start.

A Two Party Petition is not the only way a Civil Commitment proceeding can begin. Sometimes, an allegedly mentally ill person might be held prior to a civil commitment:

  • A police officer may have probable cause that a person they interact with is immediately dangerous to themselves or others due to a mental illness. They may take custody of someone to transport them to emergency care. This may be called Police Officer’s Custody or a Director’s Hold, depending on who initiated the hold.
  • A medical doctor may hold a person to evaluate if they are in immediate need of treatment for their mental illness. This is a Physician’s Hold.
  • A judge can order a hold on an allegedly mentally ill person in certain circumstances. This is a Magistrate Order.

Pre-Commitment Investigation

Once someone files a Civil Commitment petition, the Community Mental Health Program (CMHP) assigns a Pre-Commitment Investigator. The role of Benton County Behavioral Health – as the CMHP for Benton County – is to investigate the need for a commitment hearing.

Click here to read timelines for Pre-Commitment Investigations.
  • For Director’s Holds, Physician’s Holds and Magistrate Orders, the Pre-Commitment Investigation must be complete within five judicial days. Holidays and weekends do not apply.
  • For Two Party Petitions, the Pre-Commitment Investigation must be complete within fifteen calendar days.

We may speak with the allegedly mentally ill person, as well as treatment providers, family members, and others who have useful information. Depending on the investigator’s decision:

• the case may be dismissed without a hearing, by the Pre-Commitment Investigator and/or the District Attorney’s office,
• the person may go into a diversion program, or
• a full civil commitment hearing may be held.

Civil Commitment Hearing

If the investigator learns that a person may meet the criteria for Civil Commitment, they will request a hearing in front of a judge. This is a closed proceeding. The person will be appointed a lawyer, and witnesses will testify. These testimonies may include attending psychiatrists, independent mental health examiners, and other people with firsthand knowledge of the circumstances.

Not all individuals brought to a hearing are committed;
the judge will make the final decision.

Civil Commitment and Treatment

If a judge finds that the person meets the criteria, the judgment commits them to the Oregon Health Authority for up to 180 days. That may mean hospitalization or an order to do treatment in some other setting. The Pre-Commitment Investigator on their case will monitor the entirety of a person’s commitment.

It is not typical that people spend an entire 180 days in a hospital. Our goal is for treatment to be available in the least restrictive setting possible. Often, involuntary hospitalization only lasts a few days. Once a mentally ill person is stable (e.g. no longer actively psychotic, no longer poses an imminent threat to self or others), they may be discharged from the hospital to receive treatment from another facility or in the community.

Other Concerns


If there are immediate concerns for your safety or the safety of someone you care about, it is understandable to be concerned with how long an investigation can take. If this is your circumstance, we recommend getting the allegedly mentally ill person to the nearest Emergency Department or calling 911. Let them know you believe the person has a mental disorder and what your concerns for imminent danger are. You can also still submit a Two Party petition to initiate the Pre-Commitment investigation, but enlisting the help of emergency services may expand the tools available to provide help.

Legality and Rights

If you have questions about the legal processes involved with Civil Commitment, or you are concerned about your own rights or those of your loved ones, please contact an attorney. Benton County can’t offer any legal advice to the public.

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