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Evidence sufficient to satisfy Chapter 51’s 4th standard of dangerousness

Vilas County DHS v. N.J.P., 2019AP1567, 12/15/20, District 3 (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity

In this appeal from an initial commitment, the county conceded that it had not offered clear and convincing evidence to mee the 4th standard of dangerousness. It asked the court of appeals to affirm the commitment based on the 5th standard of dangerousness.  The court of appeals rejected the county’s concession and affirmed on the 4th standard because N.J.P., who is mentally ill, had been expelled from a homeless shelter and was found dressed in tattered clothes on a bitterly cold day. 

To satisfy the 4th standard of dangerousness the county had to show that N.J. P.:

Evidences behavior manifested by recent acts or omissions that, due to mental illness, he or she is unable to satisfy basic needs for nourishment, medical care, shelter or safety without prompt and adequate treatment so that a substantial probability exists that death, serious physical injury, serious physical debilitation, or serious physical disease will imminently ensue unless the individual receives prompt and adequate treatment for this mental illness. Wis. Wis. Stats. §51.20(1)(a)(2)d.

An officer saw N.J.P. acting very suspicious. He was videotaping the inside of the police department and staff through the lobby window. He was wearing dirty, ragged, torn clothing, had been recently expelled from a homeless shelter, did not make logical sense, and acted extremely paranoid.

However, the officer did not testify at the final hearing. Only the two examiners did. they both opined that N.J.P. was mentally ill, a proper subject for treatment, and dangerous. Regarding dangerousness, both examiners testified that N.J.P.’s capacity to recognize reality and meet the ordinary demands of life were impaired.

The circuit court held that the evidence of dangerousness was “razor close.” Opinion, ¶11. ¶But the court of appeals considered this an easy case. N.J.P. was emergently detained on a January day when it was 20 degrees below zero.  He was not properly dressed and he could not live at a homeless shelter, which meant he could not satisfy his basic needs for shelter and safety. The court of appeals thus affirmed the commitment based under the 4th standard of dangerousness. Id., ¶¶19-21.

For a case where the county’s evidence was insufficient to satisfy the 4th standard, see Langlade County v. D.J.W. It’s a recommitment case but its analysis of the evidence applies equally to an initial commitment.

The court of appeals initially decided this appeal on November 17, 2020. On December 2, 2020 it withdrew its opinion. On December 15 it reissued a decision that appears to be identical to its original decision.


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