Bail Jumping Charges Soar in Some Counties
Iowa, Chippewa and Eau Claire counties the worst, but Milwaukee has many, too.
Andrea wrote bad checks.
She wrote them frequently, according to the Monroe County district attorney’s office.
A criminal complaint said her bad checks included $155 (including a $23 tip) to The Hair Gallery; $53.89 to a Kwik Trip; $47 and $30.19 to the Tomah Mini-Mart; $455 to the Tomah Cash Store; $42.27 to the Tomah Phillips Pharmacy; and $46.12 to Casey’s General Store.
By the time the DA’s office finished writing them all up, Andrea faced 26 counts of misdemeanor theft by misrepresentation.
But Andrea faced an even bigger problem. She was out on bond in two earlier cases – a misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia charge in Monroe County and two counts of issuing worthless checks in La Crosse County.
A condition of each of those bonds was that Andrea not commit any crimes while her cases were pending. Violation of her bond conditions could be charged as new crimes – misdemeanor bail jumping. Misdemeanor bail jumping occurs when a person out on bond on a misdemeanor charge violates the conditions of that bond.
Based on her two pending cases, the Monroe County district attorney’s office added 31 counts of bail jumping to the 26 counts of theft.
Andrea now faced 57 criminal charges. Her maximum potential jail exposure jumped from 19.5 years to almost 43 years.
She was sentenced to a total of 77 days in jail and three years probation. Monroe County Circuit Judge David J. Rice stayed a sentence of 60 days in jail on each count.
Defense lawyers long have complained that felony and misdemeanor bail jumping charges are used to coerce defendants into pleading guilty to other charges. (Felony bail jumping occurs when a person out on bond on a felony charge violates the conditions of that bond.)
A new paper in the Wisconsin Law Review suggests that is indeed the case. The research shows that bail jumping charges have increased 134 percent statewide from 2000-2016.
A bail jumping offense may not by itself be a crime. Missing a court date, violating a local ordinance, or having a drink could all be bail jumping offenses if bond conditions prohibit those things.
Misdemeanor bail jumping carries a maximum penalty of nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine; felony bail jumping carries a maximum penalty of six years in prison and a 10,000 fine.
She considered the bail jumping cases “leveraged” to get plea agreements if at least one of the bail jumping charges was dismissed and defendants pleaded guilty to at least one of the underlying charges.
Johnson considered cases closed at the county level from 2000 to 2016.
In 2000, she found, 59 percent of cases (2,447 of 4,120) of bail jumping cases may have been leveraged; by 2016, that figure had risen to 66 percent, (5,864 of 8,841).
Looked at another way, the number of potentially leverage plea bargained cases jumped 140 percent from 2000 to 2016, from 2,447 to 5,864.
Johnson cautions that dismissed bail jumping charges along with a pleas to underlying charge do not conclusively prove that the bail jumping charges were used to coerce the plea. There are many other reasons charges are dismissed, she said.
“However, when the percentage of bail jumping charges dismissed in cases where the defendant pled to other charges reaches 70, 80, or nearly 90 percent the correlation between the dismissal of bail jumping to the plea to other charge becomes hard to ignore, particularly when dismissal rates of other charges are significantly lower,” she wrote.
In Iowa County, for example, 85 percent of bail jumping cases closed in 2016 may have been leveraged; in Chippewa County, the figure was 83 percent; in Eau Claire County, 80 percent; in Dane County, 78 percent; and in Milwaukee County, 55 percent.
In only 25 cases statewide were all bail jumping charges dismissed without a plea on other charges, Johnson wrote.
That, she said, is “another data point that appears to support the inference that bail jumping is used as leverage.”
Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.