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Prisoner – Involuntary Commitment

WI Supreme Court

Case Name: Winnebago County v. C.S.

Case No.: 2020 WI 33

Focus: Prisoner – Involuntary Commitment

This is a review of a published decision of the court of appeals, Winnebago County v. C.S., 2019 WI App 16, 386 Wis. 2d 612, 927 N.W.2d 576 (“C.S. III”), affirming the Winnebago County circuit court’s order of extension of commitment, order for involuntary medication and treatment, and order denying C.S.’s postcommitment motion. C.S. suffers from schizophrenia and was an inmate in the Wisconsin prison system. While he was incarcerated, C.S. was committed and determined incompetent to refuse medication pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 51.61(1)(g) (2015-16)2 and, therefore, was the subject of multiple involuntary medication court orders.

C.S.’s commitment and involuntary medication orders were not based upon a determination of dangerousness because neither Wis. Stat. § 51.20(1)(ar) nor Wis. Stat. § 51.61(1)(g)3. require a determination of dangerousness. Rather, under § 51.20(1)(ar), C.S. was committed based on determinations that he was mentally ill, a proper subject for treatment, and in need of treatment. Then, under § 51.61(1)(g)3., C.S. was involuntarily medicated because he was determined incompetent to refuse medication. Accordingly, the crux of the issue in this case is whether § 51.61(1)(g)3. is facially unconstitutional when an inmate committed under § 51.20(1)(ar) is involuntarily medicated based on a determination of incompetence to refuse medication only——without any determination of dangerousness at any stage.

C.S. argues that Wis. Stat. § 51.61(1)(g)3. is unconstitutional when it permits the involuntary medication of any inmate who was committed under Wis. Stat. § 51.20(1)(ar) without a determination that the inmate is “dangerous” at any stage in the proceedings. Winnebago County argues the statute is facially constitutional and invokes the County’s parens patriae power. The County posits that it has a legitimate interest in the care and assistance of a mentally ill and incompetent inmate, thus eliminating any need for a determination of dangerousness with respect to an involuntary medication order of an inmate.

The court of appeals concluded that “the involuntary medication and treatment of a prisoner is facially constitutional as there is a legitimate reason for the [S]tate to medicate/treat even when there is no finding of dangerousness——the general welfare of the prisoner.” C.S. III, 386 Wis. 2d 612, ¶8. We reverse. We conclude that Wis. Stat. § 51.61(1)(g)3. is facially unconstitutional for any inmate who is involuntarily committed under Wis. Stat. § 51.20(1)(ar), which does not require a determination of dangerousness, when the inmate is involuntarily medicated based merely on a determination that the inmate is incompetent to refuse medication. Incompetence to refuse medication alone is not an essential or overriding State interest and cannot justify involuntary medication. Accordingly, we reverse the court of appeals and remand to the circuit court with an order to vacate C.S.’s June 2015 order for involuntary medication and treatment.

Reversed and remanded


Dissent: REBECCA GRASSL BRADLEY, J., filed a dissenting opinion. HAGEDORN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which ROGGENSACK, C.J., joined.

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Derek A Hawkins is trademark corporate counsel for Harley-Davidson. Hawkins oversees the prosecution and maintenance of the Harley-Davidson’s international trademark portfolio in emerging markets.

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