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Suicidal thoughts and other evidence sufficient to meet Chapter 51 “dangerous” test

Outagamie County v. Michael H., 2013AP1638-FT, District 3, 11/26/13 (1-judge decision, ineligible for publication), petition for review granted 6/12/14, affirmed, 2014 WI 127; case activity

Michael H. challenges a jury verdict finding him “dangerous” under Wis. Stat. § 51.20(1)(a)2a and involuntarily committing him for mental health treatment.  Given this procedural posture, the court of appeals’ holding seems confined to the facts of this case.  Under § 51.20(1)(a)2a, a person is dangerous when he “evidences a substantial probability of physical harm to himself . . . as manifested by evidence of recent threats or attempts of suicide or serious bodily harm.” Slip. op. ¶20.  Michael H. never threatened suicide, but he said that he had thought about it.  Thoughts alone do not satisfy the “dangerous” test:

¶24 We disagree with the County that an admission of a thought, by itself, amounts to a “threat” under the common definition of the word. As stated in Perkins, a “threat” is an expression of an intention to inflict harm. Perkins, 243 Wis. 2d 141, ¶43. Thoughts, by themselves, do not constitute threats because they are not an expression of an intention to inflict harm.

Still, the court found sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict because:

¶25 . . . The combination of the admission of suicidal thoughts, Michael’s response that his plans were “too hard to explain” and “too long,” and Michael’s statement to the officer that he wanted to harm himself sufficiently support the jury’s determination that Michael was threatening, or “expressing an intention to inflict,” suicide or serious bodily harm. Thoughts of suicide together with a statement Michael wanted to cause harm to himself could reasonably lead a jury to believe the threat was of serious bodily harm.



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