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Mental Health Commitment – “Fifth Standard” – Constitutionality

State v. Dennis H., 2002 WI 104, on certification
For Dennis H.: Ellen Henak, SPD Milwaukee Appellate

Issue: Whether the “fifth standard” for mental commitment, § 51.20(1)(a)2.e. (roughly: refusing treatment due to incapacity for making rational treatment decision), is constitutional.

Holding: The statute isn’t vague — the state must prove the various “elements” of this standard (which the court spells out and won’t be repeated here). ¶¶19-26.
Note: the court stresses that mental illness alone doesn’t equate to the fifth standard. Additionally, the court relies on ch. 980 case law (not a good omen, one would suppose, for the course of ch. 51 litigation). In particular, the court mentions that the fifth standard conditions must be evident to a “substantial probability” — under 980 case law that phrase means “much more likely than not.”

The standard isn’t overbroad, because it only applies to those mentally ill individuals who are dangerous to themselves. ¶¶27-28.

Equal protection isn’t violated: “There is a rational basis for distinguishing between a mentally ill person who retains the capacity to make an informed decision about medication or treatment and one who lacks such capacity. The latter is helpless, by virtue of an inability to choose medication or treatment, to avoid the harm associated with the deteriorating condition,” ¶33.

Finally, there’s no substantive due process problem, because there’s no constitutional requirement that a commitment be based on danger of imminent physical harm (such as self-injury or suicide), ¶¶35-44.

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