A Superior Court Judge or Commissioner presides over the hearing. A prosecutor represents the hospital and presents evidence that the patient meets the legal criteria for an involuntary commitment. A defense attorney represents the patients. These hearings take place via video.
An attorney from the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office represents the hospitals. The prosecutor reviews the facts that led to the patient’s detention and talks to witnesses. They also speak with the behavioral health professional from the hospital who serves as the expert witness.
The prosecutor must demonstrate all of the following:
- The patient has a mental, emotional, or organic disorder.
- This disorder directly led to the patient being gravely disabled or a risk of harm to self, others, or the property of others.
- Involuntary treatment would be in the best interest of the patient and the community.
If the prosecutor does not have sufficient evidence to prove the case, and all attempts of negotiation have been exhausted, the case is dismissed. The patient is then released from the hospital.
The patient's defense
A public defense attorney represents patients at no cost. They act on the patient’s wishes in court and defends the patient’s rights.
The public defense attorney may file preliminary motions and argue against additional treatment in a hearing. They may also interview witnesses before a hearing. Witnesses can request that a prosecutor is present during a defense interview.
The judge swears in witnesses before they testify.
The prosecutor then asks questions, which may include:
- Events that led to the patient being detained.
- How the patient functions when doing well.
- Past difficulties the patient may have had with behavioral health in the past.
- Resources the patient may have in the community for support, treatment, and housing.
The defense attorney may ask additional questions.
When testifying, do not speak directly to the patient. You must answer only the questions asked. Listen to each question and answer as directly, completely, and truthfully as you can. Do not volunteer any additional information. Only state what you saw or heard, not what you assume or have been told by someone other than the patient.
If during your testimony either attorney says, “Objection” or “I object,” please stop talking and wait until the judge rules on the objection or an attorney asks you another question.
When both attorneys have finished questioning you, the judge will excuse you. This ends your court appearance.
If the judge allows, you may either watch the remainder of the hearing via video or leave the courtroom.