The United States Supreme Court has long recognized that all people, including prisoners, have a significant, constitutionally protected liberty interest in avoiding unwanted antipsychotic medications administered by the government. Chief Justice Abrahamson, writing for a unanimous court, held that a person has the right to appeal an involuntary medication order and the right to an automatic stay of that order while he pursues his appeal.
Wisconsin law allows counties to forcibly commit people who are mentally ill and dangerous for inpatient or outpatient treatment. These people have a statutory right to counsel during their commitment proceedings. Abrahamson, writing for a unanimous court, held that people undergoing commitments also have the right to the effective assistance of counsel. The legal standard for evaluating whether defense counsel in a mental commitment case was ineffective is the same as in criminal cases: Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).
Wisconsin has a law designed to protect the constitutional rights of defendants deemed mentally incompetent at the time of trial or sentencing, but it has no law to protect the rights of mentally ill defendants who are pursuing appeals. Abrahamson, writing for a unanimous court, established the procedures that courts and lawyers must follow when a defendant involved in post-conviction and appellate proceedings appears to be mentally incompetent. Many courts around the country cite this decision.