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Wisconsin voters to decide constitutional bail questions

"Yes" votes on April 4 would give judges the option to consider more information when considering bail for violent crimes.

Douglas County Circuit Court Gavel 2
Douglas County Circuit Court, Superior, Wis.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — Voters will decide in April whether to amend the Wisconsin constitution to reform how judges determine bail in when someone is accused of a violent crime.

Questions on the April 4 ballot include:

Question 1: “Conditions of release before conviction. Shall section 8 (2) of article I of the constitution be amended to allow a court to impose on an accused person being released before conviction conditions that are designed to protect the community from serious harm?”

Question 2: “Cash bail before conviction. Shall section 8 (2) of article I of the constitution be amended to allow a court to impose cash bail on a person accused of a violent crime based on the totality of the circumstances, including the accused's previous convictions for a violent crime, the probability that the accused will fail to appear, the need to protect the community from serious harm and prevent witness intimidation, and potential affirmative defenses?"

“Yes” votes would amend the Wisconsin constitution and allow judges to consider past convictions for violent crimes when setting bail.

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The Wisconsin Senate passed the measure Jan. 17, sending it to the Assembly for a vote that took place Thursday, Jan. 19.

“We know that our current system unfairly and unsafely handcuffs judges as they make bail decisions” said Sen. Romaine Quinn, R-Cameron, who voted in favor of the joint resolution Jan. 17. “We are the only state that does not allow multiple factors in bail determination. This system emboldens repeat offenders and frustrates our men and women in law enforcement.”

He was joined by Reps. Chanz Green, R-Grand View, and Angie Sapik, R-Lake Nebagamon, in the Assembly in voting to put the measure to the voters April 4.

“This bail reform bill is a tool to aid judges in setting bail and keep violent offenders off our streets,” Green said. “This proposed constitutional amendment will help ensure public safety while also protecting due process for criminal defendants.”

Quinn said judges need the flexibility to assess the whole situation when setting bail.

“They simply don’t have it now,” Quinn said. “Until voters adopt this constitutional amendment, a judge cannot take actions he or she believes would be in the interest of public safety. I am glad that Democrats and Republicans in the state Senate agree that we need to protect our communities by sending this question to the voters.”

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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