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SVP – Substantive Due Process – Automatic SVP commitment to secure confinement

State v. Ronald Ransdell, 2001 WI App 202, PFR filed 8/27/01
For Ransdell: Ellen Henak, SPD, Milwaukee Appellate

Issue: Whether the automatic initial commitment to institutional care provision, § 980.06, on its face violates substantive due process.

Holding: A person challenging the constitutionality of a statute must show its infirmity beyond reasonable doubt; a statute restricting liberty implicates a “strict-scrutiny” test. ¶5. Applying this test, § 980.06 does not violate due process: requiring that a commitment subject first undergo evaluation and treatment in an institutional setting before a decision is made as to supervised release is a reasonable legislative policy determination; and, “there are many safeguards against arbitrary confinement” (such as, various options for petitioning for release or discharge). ¶¶7-9.

The court relies heavily on the automatic-commitment procedure for NGI defendants, § 971.17(1) (1981-82), upheld by State v. Field, 118 Wis. 2d 269, 279-82, 347 N.W.2d 365 (1984). ¶8. But this merely begs the question of whether NGI and SVP procedure are really comparable. As the Supreme Court has indicated, “insanity acquittees constitute a special class that should be treated differently from other candidates for treatment,” Jones v. United States, 463 U.S. 354, 370 (1983). Field, for that matter, is premised in significant part on the idea that an insanity acquittee has necessarily committed a criminal act, itself “indicative of dangerousness.” 118 Wis. 2d at 279. Same can’t be said for an SVP subject, whose commitment is premised on a “predisposition” not actual commission of a crime. Then, too, Field stresses that automatic commitment ensures “a thorough and accurate evaluation,” 118 Wis. 2d at 281, something that will necessarily precede an SVP petition. Finally, an NGI acquittee is eligible for immediate conditional release, making the court’s reliance on the case somewhat odd. Neither side, incidentally, even cited Field in the briefs.


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