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Court of appeals finds sufficient evidence for commitment

Iowa County v. J.L.R., 2016AP1459, 1/12/17 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

J.L.R. challenges her ch. 51 commitment on the ground that there was insufficient evidence that she was dangerous to herself or others. The court of appeals finds sufficient evidence as to danger to others, and so affirms.

 J.L.R. apparently told her mother that she was going to burn the mother’s house down. At the hearing, J.L.R. described this as a “figure of speech”; she contends on appeal that because she lacked any subjective intent to threaten, her words do not qualify as a “recent… threat to do serious physical harm” as the statute requires. Wis. Stat. § 51.20(1)(a)2.b..

The court of appeals rejects this argument, concluding that the circuit court did not credit J.L.R.’s explanation and instead believed the testimony of an expert who testified that J.L.R.’s threats were real. (¶10).

J.L.R. also argues that her mother did not believe that she would really burn down the house, and so J.L.R.’s statements did not put others in “reasonable fear of violent behavior and serious physical harm,” another statutory requirement. The court, relying on  R.J. v. Winnebago County, 146 Wis. 2d 516, 431 N.W.2d 708 (Ct. App. 1988), believes that a statement that can be “viewed objectively” as a threat is enough, and in any case there was other evidence that the mother feared serious physical harm from J.L.R. (¶14).

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