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Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules Unconstitutional Statute Authorizing Forcible Medication of Involuntarily Committed Prisoner

C.S. suffers from schizophrenia. He was convicted of mayhem as a repeat offender and sentenced to 10 years of extended supervision. Then the state filed a petition to have him involuntarily committed and medicated.

Almost a decade later, the state filed to extend C.S.’s involuntary commitment and medication. A jury found that he was mentally ill, a proper subject for treatment, in need of treatment, a state prisoner on whom less restrictive forms of appropriate treatment had been unsuccessfully attempted, and fully informed of his treatment needs and rights.

This met the requirements of Wis. Stat. § 51.20(l)(ar), permitting commitment without a determination of dangerousness, which the court did. The court also found that C.S. was incompetent to refuse medication pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 51.61(1) and ordered involuntary medication. C.S. appealed, arguing that the involuntary medication statute was facially unconstitutional.

The court of appeals affirmed. With the assistance of assistant state public defender Kaitlin A. Lamb, C.S. successfully petitioned the Wisconsin Supreme Court for review. The Supreme Court noted that C.S. has since completed his prison sentence and was no longer subject to the involuntary medication order, but decided the case because it would affect many other prisoners in similar circumstances.

The court noted that to commit a non-prisoner requires proof that the person is mentally ill, a proper subject for treatment, and dangerous; but committing a prisoner only requires proof that the person is a state prisoner, mentally ill, a proper subject for treatment, and in need of treatment. Thus, a prisoner’s commitment contains no finding of dangerousness.

Once committed, a person—whether prisoner or not—retains the right to refuse medication and treatment unless ordered by court or necessary to prevent serious physical harm to the person or another. Section 51.6l(l)(g)3 authorizes the committing court to order involuntary medication if it determines that the person is not competent to refuse medication or treatment. That is what happened in C.S.’s case.

The court followed the reasoning of Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210 (1990) that a state could involuntarily medicate a prisoner only if it was in the prisoner’s interest to be medicated and the prisoner was dangerous. Further, the court had previously determined that the “mere inability of a defendant to express an understanding of medication or make an informed choice about it is constitutionally insufficient to override a defendant’s ‘significant liberty interest’” in avoiding involuntary mediation. State v. Fitzgerald, 929 N.W.2d 165 (Wis. 2019).

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Related legal case

Winnebago County v. C.S.