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SVP: Equal Protection – Confidentiality, Contrasted with Ch. 51

State v. Steven J. Burgess, 2003 WI 71, affirming 2002 WI App 264, 258 Wis. 2d 548, 654 N.W.2d 81
For Burgess: Steven P. Weiss, SPD, Madison Appellate

Issue/Holding:

¶33. Although persons committed under chapter 980 are similarly situated to those committed under chapter 51, there is a rational basis for the legislature’s distinction with respect to the confidentiality of proceedings under the two chapters. In Post, we noted that “[d]ifferences in difficulty of diagnosis, degree of dangerousness, and intrusiveness of treatment [have been] found by the [U.S.] Supreme Court to be sufficient justifications for differential treatment….” Post, 197 Wis.2d at 322. In evaluating and comparing the legislative schemes of chapters 51 and 980, we have held that:

The legislature has determined that, as a class, persons predisposed to sexual violence are more likely to pose a higher level of danger to the community than do other classes of mentally ill or mentally disabled persons. This heightened level of dangerousness and the unique treatment needs of sexually violent persons justify distinct legislative approaches to further the compelling governmental purpose of protection of the public.

Id. at 322-23. Accordingly, we conclude that Burgess’s right to equal protection was not violated due to differences in confidentiality between chapter 980 proceedings and proceedings under chapter 51.

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