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Reasonable inferences from doctor’s testimony sufficient to sustain recommitment

Winnebago County v. D.J.S., 2022AP1281, District 2 (one-judge decision ineligible for publication), case activity

Accompanied by a familiar sounding caveat that “it certainly would have been better if the County had presented more evidence and the circuit court had been more detailed and specific in its oral determination,” the court of appeals rejects D.J.S.’s sufficiency of the evidence challenge to the extension of his Chapter 51 involuntary civil commitment. (Opinion, ¶8).

The county called Dr. Vicente to prove that D.J.S. is dangerous because, if treatment is withdrawn, D.J.S.’s judgment is so impaired, as manifested by evidence of a pattern of acts or omissions, that there is a substantial probability of physical impairment or injury to himself of others. Regarding D.J.S.’s alleged dangerousness, the doctor testified about two incidents the court relied upon to find D.J.S. dangerous under Wis. Stat. §§ 51.20(1)(am) and (1)(a)2.c. First, the doctor testified that in 2017 D.J.S. knocked on someone’s door late at night and that voices told D.J.S. that the people didn’t belong there. Second, the doctor testified that in 2021 D.J.S.’s parents called the police about D.J.S., who was later found “wandering on the highway.” (¶¶3, 10-12).

On appeal, D.J.S. attacked the sufficiency of the evidence, in part by critiquing the court’s reliance on the doctor’s testimony about two incidents of which he had no personal knowledge. However, no hearsay objection was made below and the court relegates D.J.S.’s argument on appeal to a dismissive footnote. (¶9, n.3).  D.J.S. also challenged the factual basis for the court’s findings that without treatment, D.J.S. would be “doing things that are dangerous to himself.” (¶14). In the end, the court concludes that the circuit court “reasonably inferred” that the evidence established that D.J.S. would be dangerous if treatment were withdrawn. (¶14).

Again, the court of appeals decides a post-Langlade County v. D.J.W. case in which a doctor’s testimony seems to consist of inadmissible hearsay testimony about allegedly dangerous conduct of which the doctor presumably has no personal knowledge. Without a timely objection from trial counsel,  however, D.J.S.’s sufficiency of the evidence challenge faced a nearly insurmountable challenge on appeal.

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