November 14, 2008

Clearly erroneous

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel this morning reports on the decision of a Wisconsin Court of Appeals yesterday which reversed a lower court's denial of a petition for conditional release from custody brought by a man who killed three people at a church in 1985.

Bryan J. Stanley was found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect and has been in institutions since.
La Crosse County Circuit Judge Ramona Gonzalez denied Stanley's release in November 2007. The appellate court can overturn such decisions only if the judge's decision was "clearly erroneous."
More specifically, if the circuit court's interpretation of facts is clearly erroneous.
The appellate court, in a unanimous decision written by Judge Burnie Bridge in Madison, found that Gonzalez had ignored the evidence.
No, that isn't what the appeals court found and this is an unfair characterization. Judge Gonzalez certainly hadn't ignored the evidence, which was primarily the unrebutted testimony of physicians in support of Stanley's request for conditional release.

According to yesterday's opinion (.pdf; 12 pgs.), what the lower court did was place undue and ultimately erroneous emphasis within the record of Stanley's history of taking anti-psychotic medications.

For the past 15 years, Stanley has been on a drug called Clorazil. Prior to that and since his trial, he was on Prolixin, which he refused to take for one day in 1993, when his prescription was changed to Clorazil. By all accounts the latest regime has been successful.

More important to Judge Gonzales, presumably, was that before the killings Stanley was on a third medication which he stopped taking on three occasions, during one of which he committed the crimes.

Judge Gonzalez inferred from these facts the future likelihood of Stanley going off his current medication and denied the petition. The appeals court found that the factual basis for this inference was lacking. It did not find that Judge Gonzalez "ignored" any evidence.

Quite the opposite, in fact. If anything, she erred on the side of overly cautious attention to — not ignorance of — evidence.

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