What is a Green Warrant?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The slang term “green warrant” is used in some regions of the United States to refer to a mental health warrant, a warrant that compels someone to be evaluated by a mental health professional. Such warrants are issued when there is a belief that someone could be in danger due to a mental health problem, or when there is a concern that the person could pose a risk to others. The details of a green warrant vary, depending on the region where it is issued and the terms spelled out by the person who writes the warrant.

Green warrants are issued when there is a belief that someone could be in danger due to a mental health problem.
Green warrants are issued when there is a belief that someone could be in danger due to a mental health problem.

In some regions, a green warrant must be filled out and authorized by a mental health professional. In other cases, a judge can issue a mental health warrant on the grounds of information provided by friends, family, law enforcement, and mental health providers. In both cases, the situation is evaluated carefully, because a warrant results in a restriction of liberties. If someone is not in danger or does not pose a threat, a green warrant cannot be issued because there are no grounds.

A typical green warrant will order someone to be taken to a mental health facility for evaluation. It can also authorize a temporary hold, typically of up to 72 hours, for observation and treatment. If additional treatment is needed after this point, the patient may agree to voluntary commitment, or paperwork can be filed to request an involuntary commitment on the grounds that the patient cannot be safely released. The warrant authorizes law enforcement representatives to collect the subject of the warrant and deliver the subject to a hospital or mental health facility.

Documentation is usually needed for a green warrant. Under the law, people cannot be compelled to receive treatment for mental health conditions unless there is a clear and present risk. Documentation in the form of conversations with the person, evidence from the person's home, and a history of mental health issues may be needed before such a warrant will be authorized.

This type of specialized warrant can result in problems for law enforcement. Many law enforcement officers do not have adequate training in working with people who have mental illnesses, and sometimes confrontations between law enforcement and mental health patients turn deadly. People who are severely mentally ill may not understand what is happening or may view the police officers as an aggressive threat. This could cause them to act out, and police officers may use excessive force in response as a result of fear and confusion.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I have walked in these shoes, myself. My mother works for child protective services.

I went to a friend's house one evening with my four children and the friend slammed a door in my face. I, tenderhearted, left and was so upset. I was crying so hard. I called my mother and during the conversation, my phone died. I pulled into a grocery store parking lot so I could calm down and then drive home safely.

Before turning onto the road I lived on, I had two state troopers, six sheriff cars and the K9 unit following me. My record is crystal clear. I had two speeding tickets from high school (I am 37 years old.) I was patted down, handcuffed, and involuntarily committed for less than 24 hours. I lost all my rights and pride because my mother made a missing person report and was concerned about me and my children's safety. I will never be able to fully describe how scared I was.

I am a mom of triplets and an older son and to this day, I cannot "volunteer" in the school because this is on my record. My mother apologizes every day but it does not make it any easier. I cannot do all the things I did last year. We were involved in so many community projects but they all require a background check.

I worked for the airlines for 14 years was fingerprinted and had to pass a 10-year background through the FAA and I am denied volunteering in schools because my mother had a knee-jerk reaction and got all the police on a redneck parade.

My feeling is go get the people who really have a record and leave the law abiding citizens alone. In this economy with budgets being cut, schools are relying on stay at home moms to fill in. Well, I am paying the piper for something that should have never happened.


@SZapper - I was thinking the same thing as well. I am also relieved that there is certain documentation and an investigation has to be done before someone gets issued a green warrant. It seems like without this there would be so many people who didn't like one person or another to just make up a story to get them locked up in a mental institution.

I hope that there is always a thorough investigation done before deciding whether a person is truly a threat to themselves and others. There are a lot of liars and story tellers out there, so healthy-minded people can be seen as mentally ill if the authorities just take someone's word for it.


@JessicaLynn - I am sorry to hear this. Mentally ill people go through enough, they do not need the people who are supposed to serve and protect us treating them poorly and abusing their power. This enrages me, especially since I know that in most situations, people call on the police. With this being said, the police need to have more extensive training on how to deal with mentally ill people.

Just because the police do not understand a person's condition, does not give them any right to abuse a person in any way. People with mental illnesses should be given the same respect and care as everyone else. If they are saying or doing things that do not make sense, that is because they need help and love. No one deserves to be bullied, especially someone who is not mentally stable.

I think if police abuse their power and/or abuse people, they should be fired on the spot and locked, not given a bunch of chances. They know what they are doing is wrong, yet some still choose to do it anyway. Maybe if they would have consequences to their actions, less police would abuse their power and/or people.


About the issue of police handling green warrants, I think it is fair considering they have training in how to subdue violent people if necessary. I do agree, though, that maybe they don't handle things appropriately at times.

I would guess that police get some exposure to dealing with mentally ill patients in their training, but maybe there should be more training dedicated to it. The other option would be to make someone who is experienced in dealing with mental health patients accompany the police when they are executing the warrant. That person might be able to talk or negotiate with the person so that they agree to cooperate with the police.


@jmc88 - It sounds like maybe it would just depend on the jurisdiction. The article says that a green warrant can either be issued by a judge or mental health professional.

If the warrant is issued through the court by a judge, it seems like it would almost have to be in the system somewhere associated with the person. Along the same lines, it seems like that would stay on a person's record for at least a few years.

I'm not sure how it would work if the warrant came from a mental health professional. If the police were involved, though, I'm sure it would still get put in the system at some point.

From one standpoint, it seems unfortunate that the person would have to have a green warrant on their record, but at the same time, the article makes it sound like green warrants are only issued in extreme cases when the person could do physical harm to theirself or others. If a future employer was doing a background check, I think it would be important that they know the person's history and make sure that their mental health issues have been taken care of.


@jcraig - I was wondering the same thing. I have never heard the term used before.

I can't see any reason why a green warrant would show up on someone's criminal record unless of course they did commit a crime due to their mental illness. I doubt the green warrant itself would be on the record, though.

Something else I was wondering about is whether or not a green warrant would show up in the record system like a normal warrant. For example, if someone was driving around and was stopped by the police, would the warrant show up in the system?


What is the origin of the term "green warrant"? Are green warrants common in every state, or do only certain states allow people to be detained for psychiatric reasons?

Even though it is called a warrant, if someone did get a green warrant, it isn't something that would go on a criminal record is it? It isn't like the person necessarily committed any type of crime.


I am glad to see that proper documentation is necessary for a green warrant arrest. It seems like it would be much to easy to abuse something like this if not.

Children could call in if they were mad at their parents. A mom in the middle of a custody battle could call in and report the dad was "mentally unstable." A lot can happen in the 72 hours a person is in custody for evaluation.

I do think that mentally ill people need help. But, I think we need to err on the side of caution so we don't subject perfectly healthy people to arrest and testing for no reason.


@JessicaLynn - Those two cops sound like a couple of jerks. However, I think it would be fairly easy for a even a well-meaning cop to mess up taking someone in on a green warrant. As you (and the article) stated, they just aren't trained to do that.

I think that if places are going to take people in on green warrants, they should have EMTs do it. EMTs actually have medical training and probably have a much better bedside manner than cops. Also, if the person was in danger of hurting themselves and actually did so, the EMTs could treat them.

I think that would be a better all around solution for everyone-especially the mentally ill person!


I agree 100% that most cops don't have the training to deal with mentally ill people. I actually had an acquaintance who was taken in on a green warrant. He threatened to kill himself.

Let's just say the police were less than nice to him. They pretty much busted into his house with no warning, and then they roughed him up and made fun of him for being "sad."

The whole experience was horribly unpleasant for my friend, and didn't really help his mental state any. He was evaluated at the hospital and released, and got some counseling. I personally think he would have recovered a bit faster if he wasn't so shaken up by his dealings with the police.

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