Mental Health and Substance Abuse Commitments
Individuals may commence court proceedings for the involuntary, short-term commitment of a person who suffers from a serious mental impairment, substance-related disorder and/or both. An involuntary commitment is limited to persons who are incapable of making responsible decisions regarding their own treatment, and the process may include court-ordered hospitalization and medication without that person’s consent. The role of the Polk County Attorney’s Office in these proceedings is limited by Iowa law to the presentation of evidence at hearing. The Polk County Attorney’s Office Civil Bureau does not and cannot provide legal representation or legal advice to private citizens.
Family members, friends, caregivers or any other interested persons with first-hand knowledge of an individual’s condition may initiate these proceedings by filing an Application for Involuntary Admission with the County Clerk of Court. The application must be filed in the county where the person suffering from the serious mental impairment and/or substance-related disorder is currently located, or in the county where the person suffering from the serious mental impairment and/or substance-related disorder resides. Under Iowa law, the application must also be supported by an affidavit of a second person with first-hand knowledge, a written statement of a licensed medical provider, or both. These forms can be provided upon request from the Polk County Clerk of Court or they are available online at: Court Forms | Iowa Judicial Branch (iowacourts.gov). The Application and Affidavit are the filer’s opportunity to communicate all relevant information to the court and medical professionals. These forms should be completed as accurately and thoroughly as possible.
The completed forms may be filed at the Polk County Justice Center, located at 222 5th Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50309.
The person filing the action to begin the involuntary commitment proceedings is called the “Applicant.” The person that authors the affidavit is called the “Affiant.” The person the Applicant and Affiant are seeking to involuntarily commit is called the “Respondent.”
At the time of filing, the judge will review the application, affidavit, and any accompanying documents. If the judge finds probable cause to believe that the Respondent meets criteria for commitment, the judge will set a hearing on the matter within 5 days, notify the sheriff to have the Respondent immediately transported to the hospital, and order a physician to examine the Respondent.
The following must be proven to involuntarily commit a person for a serious mental impairment:
- The individual suffers from a mental illness;
- As a result of the mental illness, the individual lacks sufficient judgment to make responsible decisions with respect to the person’s hospitalization or treatment; and
- As a result of mental illness, the individual:
- Is likely to physically injure the person’s self or others if allowed to remain at liberty without treatment; or
- Is likely to inflict serious emotional injury on members of the person’s family or others who lack the reasonable opportunity to avoid contact with the person if the person with the mental illness is allowed to remain at liberty without treatment; or
- Is unable to satisfy the person’s needs for nourishment, clothing, essential medical care or shelter so that it is likely that the person will suffer physical injury or death; or
- Has a history of lack of compliance with treatment and that lack of compliance has been a significant factor in the need for emergency hospitalization or has resulted in one or more acts causing serious physical injury to the person’s self or others or an attempt to physically injure the person’s self or others.
See Iowa Code § 229.
The following must be proven to involuntarily commit a person for a substance-related disorder:
- The individual suffers from a substance-related disorder of sufficient duration to meet the diagnostic criteria specified in the DSM-V that results in a functional impairment;
- As a result of the substance-related disorder, the individual lacks judgmental capacity; and
- As a result of the substance-related disorder, the individual presents a danger to self and others.
See Iowa Code § 125.
The Polk County Attorney’s Office assists the Applicant and Affiant with the presentation of evidence at the scheduled hearing. The Polk County Attorney’s Office Civil Bureau does not and cannot provide legal representation or advice to private citizens. The hearing will be conducted virtually via Zoom. The parties will not appear in person. The Applicant must be present for the hearing. If the Applicant fails to be present for the hearing, the matter will be dismissed. The Respondent will be present for the hearing, and will be represented by a court-appointed attorney. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court will decide whether criteria for further commitment is met, and if so, adopt a treatment plan as recommended by the evaluating physician. The proceedings are confidential and only persons necessary for the hearing will be allowed to attend. Those permitted to attend the hearing are generally limited to the Applicant, the Affiant, the Assistant Polk County Attorney, the Respondent, the Respondent’s court-appointed attorney, the judge, and the testifying physician.
Additional information regarding civil commitments may be found online at https://www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/representing-yourself/committments. Individuals with questions regarding civil commitments in Polk County may call the Polk County Clerk of Court Civil Commitment Division at (515) 286-3666 or the Polk County Attorney’s Office at (515) 286-3341.