Two her home in West Allis in Wisconsin. She

Two police officers picked up Mrs. Alberta Leesard on the 29th
of October, 1971from in front of her home in West Allis in Wisconsin. She was
then moved to the Mental Health Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for detainment. The
treatment that she was meted out over the following months formed the base of
her civil action. In essence, she was stripped of all the rights that citizen
of the country holds In 1971, mental illness was not really understood, and the
law presumed that such people were helpless and in need of protection. IN case
any mentally ill person was arrested and brought to the court, the outcome for
almost every case was having the person committed to a mental institution. Leesard
challenged the civil commitment procedures of Wisconsin and managed to get them

The judgment in Leesard v. Schmidt was issued by a three judge
panel, who found the commitment laws to be entirely unconstitutional. In doing
so, it managed to set aside hundreds of years of precedent set by previous commitments
of mental patients by various courts. They believed the stigma of mental
commitment was much worse than getting a criminal conviction against ones name.
They deemed that such commitment could only be held in the most extreme of
cases. They also believed that the mental patients be accorded the same civil
protection as criminals. Mental patients were typically locked up against their
will, and the judged decreed that it was governments responsibility to prove,
beyond reasonable doubt, hat the patients in question were dangerous, either to
their own self or to others. The case was sent on appeal to the Supreme Court,
and the impact of the initial judgment can be gauged from the fact that even
before the higher court upheld the ruling, many states, including Wisconsin,
had already redrafted their mental health laws.

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The case transformed mental health laws around the country,
and led to the state after state dropping their broad commitment statutes which
were followed as a general rule rather an exception. Additionally, it also made
involuntary civil commitment from being a medical decision to a quasi-criminal
proceeding. This means that the person receives all the procedural protection
under criminal law.  Thus, instead of
doctors, it was legal professionals who would decide on commitment. The case
was instrumental in transforming mental health laws by bringing to light the
draconian measures the sate was allowed to exercise in the name of those laws. 


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