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Civil commitments more common than people think, says attorney general's office


WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. (WSAU) – Officials with the state attorney generals office say civil commitments like the one handed down this week for a Marshfield man happen more often than people think.

Assistant AG Roy Korte says only a few people each year are brought up for the commitment orders, but the numbers add up. "Since the law was put into place, a little over 700 cases have been filed."  Around 480 of those cases have resulted in commitments.  

The Chapter 980 hearing allows the state to hold a person deemed to be sexually violent until they are no longer a danger to society. That was demonstrated this week as a Marshfield man was ordered held. 56-year-old John Smith Junior will remain in jail until the state finds him to be no longer sexually violent.

Smith was convicted in 1992 of five counts of first-degree sexual assault. He was due to be released in February 2011 after serving a 20-year prison sentence. But the attorney general’s office filed a petition asking that Smith be committed under the state’s sexual violence law.

Witnesses and doctors testified during a two day court trial Monday and Tuesday. A judge ruled that there was enough evidence to prove Smith was a danger to society and was to be held until he was no longer a danger.

Korte says it's important to note that the people held under these hearings do not lose their rights to a fair hearing or treatment. "They have a right to an examiner, a right to an attorney, to a jury trial." Those held also have the right to regular examinations and hearings to determine if they're ready for release.