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Emergency Detention, § 51.15(10) – Untimely Probable Cause Hearing, Lost Competency of Court to Proceed

Dane County v. Stevenson L.J., 2009 WI App 84
For Stevenson L.J.: Ruth N. Westmont

Issue/Holding: Where Stevenson L.J. was detained on an “emergency statement” in one county (Brown), then transferred to another (Dane) before a probable cause hearing, a new emergency statement in Dane County did not establish a new 72-hour time limit for a probable cause hearing; competency over the proceeding was therefore lost:

¶12      Under the County’s argument, “otherwise admitted” would mean that a person initially detained under Wis. Stat. § 51.15(5) could be held solely on the basis of a treatment director’s emergency detention statement, which would, in essence, reset the seventy-two hour clock while the patient remained involuntarily detained at the institution. If this could be done once, however, there is no reason why it could not be done two or three times, or more for that matter. Given the statute’s unambiguous intent to protect the liberty interests of individuals like Stevenson L.J. during emergency detention, § 51.15(10) cannot reasonably be construed to allow practices that would defeat that end. … Stevenson L.J.’s first detention expired when he was not given a probable cause hearing within seventy-two hours. We conclude that § 51.15(10) is not ambiguous and cannot reasonably be construed to authorize the continued detention of an individual who has not been given a probable cause hearing within the statutorily required time. Accordingly, the treatment director’s statement of emergency detention was a nullity.¶13      Because we conclude that Wis. Stat. § 51.15(10) cannot reasonably be interpreted to authorize the continued detention of an individual who has not received the mandated probable cause hearing within seventy-two hours, we also reject the County’s additional contention that the second statement of emergency detention did not run afoul of our holdings in Getto, 175 Wis. 2d at 501-02, and Judith G., 250 Wis. 2d 817, ¶19. In each of these cases, we held that once the seventy-two hour period for holding a probable cause hearing has expired, the filing of a substantially identical successive petition for detention in an effort to set back the clock did not restore the court’s competency to proceed. See Getto, 175 Wis. 2d at 500-01, and Judith G., 250 Wis. 2d 817, ¶19. Here, contrary to the County’s argument, the fact that the treatment director’s subsequent statement of emergency detention contained additional allegations of dangerousness and was filed in a different county by a different detaining authority does not cure its defect. The statement’s shortcoming does not lie in its venue or in its content; instead, it lies in the fact that the detention it sought to execute was contrary to statutory requirements and was thus unlawful.

Meta-message: given the liberty interest at stake, Ch. 51 time limits will be strictly enforced, e.g., ¶11.


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