Two police officers picked up Mrs.
Alberta Leesard on the 29thof October, 1971from in front of her home in West Allis in Wisconsin. She wasthen moved to the Mental Health Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for detainment. Thetreatment that she was meted out over the following months formed the base ofher civil action. In essence, she was stripped of all the rights that citizenof the country holds In 1971, mental illness was not really understood, and thelaw presumed that such people were helpless and in need of protection. IN caseany mentally ill person was arrested and brought to the court, the outcome foralmost every case was having the person committed to a mental institution. Leesardchallenged the civil commitment procedures of Wisconsin and managed to get themoverturned. The judgment in Leesard v. Schmidt was issued by a three judgepanel, who found the commitment laws to be entirely unconstitutional.
In doingso, it managed to set aside hundreds of years of precedent set by previous commitmentsof mental patients by various courts. They believed the stigma of mentalcommitment was much worse than getting a criminal conviction against ones name.They deemed that such commitment could only be held in the most extreme ofcases. They also believed that the mental patients be accorded the same civilprotection as criminals. Mental patients were typically locked up against theirwill, and the judged decreed that it was governments responsibility to prove,beyond reasonable doubt, hat the patients in question were dangerous, either totheir 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 evenbefore the higher court upheld the ruling, many states, including Wisconsin,had already redrafted their mental health laws. The case transformed mental health laws around the country,and led to the state after state dropping their broad commitment statutes whichwere followed as a general rule rather an exception.
Additionally, it also madeinvoluntary civil commitment from being a medical decision to a quasi-criminalproceeding. This means that the person receives all the procedural protectionunder criminal law. Thus, instead ofdoctors, it was legal professionals who would decide on commitment. The casewas instrumental in transforming mental health laws by bringing to light thedraconian measures the sate was allowed to exercise in the name of those laws.