Washington State House Democrats


Joel’s Law fixes a problem. Here’s how to make use of it

Doug and Nancy Reuter high five each other while watching the State House of Representatives pass Joel’s Law in 2015

Joel Reuter was a young man in crisis. For years he had suffered from bipolar disorder and had previously been committed under Arizona’s petition system, monitored for a year to make sure he was recovering.

And for five years, Joel lived in Seattle without any significant mental health issues, working as a software engineer and living on Capitol Hill. But when he started showing signs of another crisis, his family tried 48 times to get their son the help he needed.

On July 5, 2013, Joel was killed in a standoff with police while suffering from a crisis where he thought he was shooting at zombies.

Joel’s Law was approved by the Legislature this year. It allows courts to order involuntary commitment if, after reviewing a family member’s petition and statement, feels that detention is warranted. Joel’s family would have been able to petition the courts to overrule decisions to not commit Joel to a facility if this law had been in effect.

Under Joel’s Law, people with family members in crisis can petition the court to commit a loved one under the following circumstances:

  • You are an immediate family member, legal guardian, or conservator of the person you seek to have detained. An immediate family member is a spouse, domestic partner, child, stepchild, parent, stepparent, grandparent, or sibling;
  • A Designated Mental Health Professional (DMHP) has conducted an investigation and decided not to detain that person for evaluation and treatment; or
  • It has been 48 hours since the DMHP received a request for investigation, and the DMHP has not taken action to have the person detained.

If that criteria is met, the steps to take to petition under Joel’s Law are as follows:

  • Go to your county’s Superior Court and ask the clerk for Joel’s Law Petition for Initial Detention.
  • Complete a written and sworn declaration in support of your petition that describes why the person should be detained (you will have the opportunity to describe behavior and history to support your declaration).
  • File your petition with the clerk of the superior court.

A judge or court commissioner will review your petition and decide if there is sufficient evidence to support your request. If there is, the petition will be sent to the DMHP agency. The agency will have one judicial day to respond with why it chose not to commit the person in question.

Once that has been reviewed, along with any other declaration in support or opposing your petition, the judge will issue a final decision on your petition, no later than five judicial days from the day you filed it. That judge can enter an order for initial detention if there is probable cause to support the detention and the person has refused to voluntarily accept evaluation and treatment.

A mental health crisis can affect anyone at any time, and it’s important that family members have the tools to make sure their loved ones are safe and receive treatment. Joel’s family believes this tool would have saved their son. Hopefully it will save someone else before it’s too late.