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SCOW to decide standard for involuntarily administering antipsychotic medications to mentally ill prisoners

Winnebago County v. C.S., 2016AP1982, petition for review of a published court of appeals opinion granted 8/15/19; case activity


Does Wis. Stat. §51.61(1)(g) violate substantive due process because it does not require a finding of dangerousness to involuntarily medicate a prisoner?

This is an important case.  According to SCOTUS, the government may not administer antipsychotic medications to a mentally ill prisoner against his will unless he is dangerous to himself or others. See Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210, 226-227 (1990). Defying Harper, the court of appeals here held that the government has an interest in providing care and treatment to prisoners. Therefore, §51.61(1)(g) permits it to forcibly administer these medications to any mentally ill prisoner who is found not competent to refuse them–whether he is dangerous or not. While the court of appeals tries to reconcile its decision with Harper (see our prior post here),the two cases appear to be on collision course that could end in SCOTUS. We’ll see how SCOW handles the issue.

To make matters more interesting, C.S. also argues that the party challenging the constitutionality of a statute should not have to prove that it is unconstitutional “beyond a reasonable doubt.” That gives too much deference to the legislature. Instead, under SCOTUS precedent, the challenger need only make a “plain showing” that a statute is unconstitutional. See Mayo v. Wisconsin Patients Compensation Fund, 2018 WI 78, ¶¶ 68-96 383 Wis. 2d 1, 914 N.W.2d 679 (Justice R. G. Bradley concurring).

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Bill S. August 19, 2019, 3:37 pm

    Our glorious court of appeals defied the SCOTUS’s rule??! I’m shocked, shocked I say!! After all, it’s just for the patient’s own good (wink, wink). Next, our glorious supreme court will have its own chance to defy the SCOTUS rule.

    The “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard inherently refers to a fact-finding decision, not the interpretation and application of laws. Says I.

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