Wisconsin Examiner

Republicans May Rewrite Bail Amendment

Legislators passed amendment giving judges more latitude on bail but now want to rewrite it before April election.

By , Wisconsin Examiner - Feb 7th, 2023 10:35 am
Assembly Republicans speaking at a press conference held prior to passage of the bail constitutional amendment. (Baylor Spears | Wisconsin Examiner)

Assembly Republicans speaking at a press conference held prior to passage of the bail constitutional amendment. (Baylor Spears | Wisconsin Examiner)

Republican lawmakers are circulating a bill to clarify the definition of “violent crime” and “serious harm” for a proposed constitutional amendment that would expand what factors judges can consider when setting bail.

Voters will see the proposed constitutional amendment, which was quickly approved by the Republican-led Legislature last month, on April ballots alongside the competitive race for an open seat on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court. Politicians say the proposed amendment could drive conservative turnout in the spring elections.

Wisconsin judges are currently allowed to set monetary bail only as a means of ensuring a defendant shows up in court.

The proposed constitutional amendment expands this to allow judges to consider, in cases where the defendant is accused of a violent crime, the “totality of the circumstances.” Those circumstances include whether the defendant has a previous conviction for a violent crime; how likely the defendant is to appear in court; the need to protect members of the community from serious harm; the need to prevent the intimidation of witnesses and the potential affirmative defenses of the defendant.

Some Democratic opponents have said the amendment could further exacerbate economic disparities in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system and doesn’t go far enough to address the problems with the current bail system. Other lawmakers wanted to postpone voting on the proposed amendment due to concerns that it didn’t include definitions at the time of the vote.

Rep. Cindi Duchow (R-Town of Delafield), who co-authored the amendment alongside Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), promised that definitions would be released before the April election.

“We’re talking about violent crime. This is not for shoplifting. This is not for stealing a car, but it is for carjacking,” Duchow said on the day the Assembly passed the proposed amendment. “Violent crime is defined in statute in three different places, and we will redefine that before the ballot on April 4. We’ll also define ‘serious harm.’ Currently, that stands for serious bodily harm, so murder or the threat of murder.”

The anticipated bill identifies over 100 crimes to be included in “violent crime,” including homicide, sexual assault, human trafficking, stalking, arson, carjacking and child abuse.

Wanggaard’s chief of staff told the Associated Press the bill would remove at least one crime, failure to stop child abuse, from existing definitions of violent crimes and add certain crimes like assault by a prisoner and incest with a child.

The bill also defines “serious harm” as personal physical pain or injury, illness, any impairment of physical condition, or death, including mental anguish or emotional harm attendant to the personal physical pain or injury, illness, or death; damage to property over $2,500 in value or economic loss over $2,500 in value.

The definition was developed by analyzing other statutory definitions for terms like “harm,” “mental harm,” “substantial bodily harm,” “grievous bodily harm,” “great bodily harm,” and “serious bodily harm,” according to the cosponsorship memo sent by Duchow and Wanggaard.

The bill will only take effect if the constitutional amendment is approved by voters in April and would be void if the amendment is not approved.

Republicans to clarify bail amendment proposal was originally published by Wisconsin Examiner

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