Wisconsin assembly bill would lessen the penalty for bail jumpingSubmitted: 12/05/2019
Stephen Goin
Stephen Goin

Wisconsin assembly bill would lessen the penalty for bail jumping
WISCONSIN - New legislation at the state level could make the penalty for bail jumping less severe.

Some law enforcement officials in Oneida County believe that move would be misguided.

Under current Wisconsin law, bail jumping means failure to comply with the terms of a bond after being released from custody in a pending criminal matter.

"It's violating basically the rules that the judge set forth for you for future court dates, it's the rules to basically keep you out of jail," explained Oneida County Sheriff's Capt. Tyler Young. "Maybe not having contact with certain people, the witnesses, or going to establishments that serve alcohol, things of that nature are common conditions."

Assembly Bill 638 would make the penalty for all bail jumping a Class B misdemeanor. Class B misdemeanors are punishable up to 90 days in jail and or a fine of up to $1,000. The bill would also only allow a defendant to be charged for bail jumping once per underlying charge.

Under current law, a defendant will be charged with a Class A misdemeanor for bail jumping if the underlying charge is a misdemeanor. A defendant will be charged with a Class H felony for bail jumping if the underlying charge is a felony.

Class A misdemeanors are punishable up to 9 months in jail and or a fine of up to $10,000; Class H felonies up to six years in prison and or a fine up to $10,000.

Young said those charged with bail jumping rarely receive the full extent of the penalty.

"If you get arrested for misdemeanor bail jumping you get booked into the jail and you get released again," said Young. "Felony bail jumping you get held in the jail until the judge gives you different bail conditions."

Young said defendants in Oneida County face bail jumping charges often. In 2019 so far, 195 people were charged with misdemeanor bail jumping and 129 people were charged with felony bail jumping. In 2018, 244 people were charged with misdemeanor bail jumping and 162 people were charged with felony bail jumping.

Young believes the new bill raises concerns.

"The possibility of lessing [sic] the consequence for not following the rules, I don't know where that's incentive or where we're going to see a decrease of people bail jumping," said Young.

Bill sponsor Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers) claims charging people for bail jumping with the verdict out on their underlying charge bypasses the justice system.

"Automatically get somebody for a felony even if they've not been convicted of the underlying crime, I don't agree with that," said Sortwell.

He believes bail jumping charges are just used as an easy way to keep criminals in jail.

"That's part of why they sometimes they don't even bother charging people on other charges because they've already got them on a felony and they're good with that," said Sortwell.

He believes someone should be convicted of a felony before a felony bail jumping charge is added.

In a press release, bill author Rep. David Crowley (D-Milwaukee) said "bail jumping, as it is written now, does not make any sense. It is supposed to be a tool to make people show up for court. However, it has morphed into a tool to force plea deals onto defendants, depriving them of their Constitutional right to a jury trial."

Young claims that bail jumping charges are necessary even if the secondary offence seems innocuous.

"For the opportunity not to be incarcerated they agreed to these terms," said Young. "A felony's a serious charged and there should be guarantees that they don't recommit."

Assembly Bill 638 was introduced Monday and referred to the committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety.

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