Understanding Section 12 & 35 - The Process, Decision Making, and Ethics



Resort and Conference Center at Hyannis
35 Scudder Avenue
Hyannis, MA 02601

Thank you to our panelists:

  • Dr. Syed Moosvi - Medical Director, Cape Cod & Islands Community Mental Health Center, Department of Mental Health.
  • Hon. Judge Christopher Welch - Falmouth District Court and Fall River Drug Court
  • Patricia Durgin - Program Manager at Centers for Behavioral Health Partial Hospital Program and Human Rights Officer for Cape Cod Healthcare
  • Mary Munsell - Dance in the Rain - Whole Person Approach
Materials from the event are available for download at the bottom of this page.


What is Section 35?

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 123, Section 35 permits the courts to involuntarily commit someone who has an alcohol or substance use disorder and there is a likelihood of serious harm as a result of his/her alcohol or substance use. The commitment will be for inpatient care of a person with analcohol or substance use disorder in licensed or approved facility for a period of up to, but not to exceed 90 days.

Who may file a Section 35 petition?

According to the statute, only a qualified petitioner may request the court to commit someone to treatment under Section 35. They are: a spouse, blood relative, guardian, a police officer, physician, or court official. Petitions may be filed at a District or Juvenile Court.

What is the standard for admission under Section 35?

To meet criteria for civil commitment, “likelihood of serious harm” must exceed what harm can be reasonably assumed to exist, when any individual abuses alcohol or other drugs, but for the purpose of involuntary commitment the statute defines “likelihood of serious harm” as:

  1. A substantial risk of physical harm to the person himself/herself as manifested by evidence of threats of, or attempts at suicide or serious bodily harm; OR

  2. A substantial risk of physical harm to others as manifested by evidence of homicidal or other violent behavioror evidence that others are placed in reasonable fear of violent behavior and serious physical harm to them; OR

  3. A very substantial risk of physical impairment or injury to the person himself/herself as manifested by evidence that such person’s judgment is so affected that he/she is unable to protect himself/herself in the community and that reasonable provision for his/her protection is not available in the community.

The “likelihood of serious harm” must be directly related to the substance use and must be a current or imminent threat.