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Re-incarceration Not Grounds to Dismiss Wisconsin Civil Commitment Petition

On June 29, 2012, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that Wisconsin Statutes chapter 980 (2005-06), the state's sex offender civil commitment law, does not require that a pending commitment petition be dismissed when the person subject to civil commitment is re-incarcerated due to revocation of their parole or extended supervision.

The Court issued its ruling in consolidated appeals filed by Carl C. Gilbert, Jr. and Price T. Hunt, who were convicted of second- and third-degree sexual assault, respectively. Hunt also was convicted of misdemeanor battery. Gilbert received a ten-year prison sentence while Hunt was sentenced to five years in prison and five years extended supervision.

The day before Gilbert was released on parole, the state's petition to have him civilly committed was granted. When paroled the next day, Gilbert was sent to the Wisconsin Resource Center (WRC), a civil commitment facility operated by the Department of Health Services, pending the outcome of the petition. Likewise, Hunt was transferred to the WRC to complete his extended supervision after the state's civil commitment petition was granted.

Gilbert and Hunt violated the terms of their supervised release, were returned to prison due to the violations, and were subsequently ordered to be involuntarily civilly committed. However, they both stayed in prison until the completion of the remainder of their sentences before being returned to the WRC.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial courts' civil commitment orders (Wisconsin v. Gilbert, 333 Wis.2d 157, 798 N.W.2d 889 (Wisc. Ct. App. 2011)), and Gilbert and Hunt petitioned for review.

In examining the merits of the appeal, the state Supreme Court noted that chapter 980 is not punitive, as its purpose is to provide treatment to sexually violent persons "who are at a high risk to reoffend in order to reduce the likelihood that they will engage in such conduct in the future."

The Court concluded that chapter 980 does not require dismissal of a civil commitment petition upon an offender's re-incarceration because it: 1) does not contain language allowing for dismissal under such circumstances; 2) does not set a time period for execution of a civil commitment order; and 3) states that an individual may be simultaneously committed under chapter 980 and incarcerated at a state prison.

Accordingly, the Wisconsin Supreme Court found that Gilbert and Hunt had been properly civilly committed and affirmed the orders of the lower courts.

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley issued a lengthy and detailed dissenting opinion.

"The majority determines that the commitment orders in this case are valid based upon its conclusion that a circuit court is permitted to 'enter a commitment order ... well before the sexually violent person [is] released from DOC [Department of Corrections] incarceration,'" she wrote. However, "[a]llowing an involuntary commitment order to be entered 'at any time' unconstitutionally divorces the findings of mental illness and dangerousness from the time the commitment is actually 'executed.'" See: Wisconsin v. Gilbert, 342 Wis.2d 82, 816 N.W.2d 215 (Wisc. 2012), cert. denied.

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Related legal case

Wisconsin v. Gilbert