File a Section 35 petition

Find out how and where you can file a Section 35 petition to commit a person at risk of hurting themself or others because of alcohol or drug abuse.

District Court, Boston Municipal Court (BMC), and Juvenile Court locations

The Details of File a Section 35 petition

What you need for File a Section 35 petition

You can file a petition in the Clerk’s Office. They will give you the petition. If you think there is an immediate danger you should contact your local police or emergency services.

How to file File a Section 35 petition

Start the process as soon as possible by going to your nearest District Court, Boston Municipal Court (BMC) or Juvenile Court. The court opens at 8:30 a.m. Go to the clerk’s office and ask for the person who helps with the Section 35 petitions. It helps if you know where the respondent (the person at risk of hurting themself or others) is.

Fill out and sign the petition. You may be asked to fill out a short intake form for the judge to review that says who the respondent is and explains why you are filing the petition. Once you have filed the petition, you can’t withdraw it without the court’s permission.

You can also contact either your local court or the court where you think the person is currently located by phone to talk about filing the petition without coming to court, as well as other options that may be available during COVID-19. You can find phone numbers for local courts on the District Court location pages.

Next steps for File a Section 35 petition

  1. Talk to the judge

    You’ll talk with the judge in court and be asked to explain why you requested the petition. After hearing the petition, the judge will decide whether to have the respondent brought to court by either a summons or a warrant of apprehension.

    • Warrant of apprehension — If the judge issues a warrant of apprehension, the warrant is sent to the local police. The police will try to arrest the respondent at the address you give them. The police will arrest the respondent and bring them to the courthouse during court hours, between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. By law, the police can only arrest the respondent when court is open, not at night or on weekends. The warrant of apprehension may be good for up to 5 business days. When the respondent is arrested, they will be handcuffed, taken to court, and put in a holding cell to wait for a hearing.
    • Summons — If the judge decides a warrant isn’t needed, the court will mail a notice of a hearing date to the respondent.
  2. The evaluation

    Once the respondent is in court, the court will give them a lawyer. A lawyer is assigned to represent the respondent, not the petitioner (the person who filed the Section 35). The lawyer represents the rights, wishes, and intentions of the respondent. 

    The court will also have a psychologist or clinician examine the respondent. The court clinician will interview the respondent and the petitioner. They may contact the respondent’s substance abuse or mental health treatment providers or programs to get more information that will help the court decide whether or not to commit the respondent.

  3. The hearing

    The court will have a hearing where the clinician will testify. The petitioner and the respondent will both have a chance to show evidence and be heard.

    The court can only order to commit the respondent if it finds that:

    1. The respondent is a person with an alcohol and/or substance use disorder, AND
    2. There is a likelihood of serious harm because of the disorder.

    If the judge decides that there isn’t enough evidence to meet the legal standard for an alcohol and/or substance use disorder, or likelihood of serious harm, they will deny the petition and the respondent will be released.

    If the judge decides to commit the respondent, the court will hold the respondent until the Sheriff’s Department brings them to the treatment facility. The court can't commit someone to a private facility, and they can’t force an insurance company to pay for treatment. The petitioner and the respondent don’t have a choice about where the respondent is treated. There are several public detoxification/treatment facilities in Massachusetts where the court can commit someone under Section 35. The treatment facilities are run by either the Department of Public Health (DPH) or the Department of Correction (DOC). Although the law allows someone to be committed for up to 90 days, the commitment period is usually much shorter.

Contact for File a Section 35 petition

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