By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — As liberal Lt. Gov Mandela Barnes doubles down on his support for eliminating cash bail, one Republican lawmaker working to stop the revolving-door criminal justice system says radical Democrats like Barnes just don’t get it.
“I don’t know how many innocent victims we’re going to have to see terrorized by these criminals before the left is going to give up their crazy positions on this issue,” said state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo.
The New Berlin Republican has been a vehement voice against the kind of progressive criminal justice policies Barnes is pushing.
As the Washington Free Beacon reported, the Democratic frontrunner in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race, previously sponsored a bill that would have ended cash bail and barred courts from using the severity of a defendant’s crimes to argue against their release.
The measure, introduced in 2016 when Barnes was a Milwaukee lawmaker, would have ditched “monetary bail as a condition of release for a defendant charged with” a crime. Instead of setting bail, Wisconsin courts would be “required to release a defendant before trial” unless they found “by clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant would “cause serious bodily harm to a member of the community” if released. Under the bill, however, courts could not “use the nature, number, and gravity” of the crimes in question as the sole reason to keep someone behind bars, severely limiting prosecutors’ ability to argue that the defendant would be a risk to the community.
The bill died in committee.
Barnes still thinks it’s a good idea.
“The lieutenant governor believes we should decide who is imprisoned before their trial begins based on how much of a risk they pose to the community, not on how much money they have,” Barnes’ campaign flack told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The lieutenant governor also agrees with his boss, Gov. Tony Evers, that felony bail charges ought to be nixed.
As Empower Wisconsin reported last month, Evers pushed for ending felony bail-jumping penalties in his last biennial budget proposal.
“The governor recommends eliminating the felony penalty for bail jumping and allowing for a misdemeanor penalty regardless of the original charge,” the plan declared. It was part of a paragraph in which Evers recommended legalizing marijuana.
Barnes sponsored a similar bill in 2016.
Low bail/no bail policies are at the center of widespread concerns over spikes in violent crime nationwide.
If Evers and Barnes would have had their way, the Milwaukee man charged in the Waukesha Christmas parade massacre would not have faced felony bail-jumping charges in his long and violent criminal career.
The governor refused to remove liberal Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm from his post on “dereliction of duty” charges after Chisholm’s office recommended “inappropriately low” bail for Darrell Brooks Jr. Brooks is accused of plowing his SUV into the Nov. 21 Christmas parade killing six people and injuring dozens more. Just days before, Brooks was set free on $1,000 bail after being charged with recklessly endangering safety. Police say he ran over the mother of his child — with the same SUV he drove into the Waukesha parade.
Brooks has a long and violent rap sheet, including multiple felony bail-jumping charges. Brooks, a registered sex offender in Nevada, has an outstanding warrant in that state on unrelated charges. He was arrested and then jumped bail, authorities said.
Barnes doubling down on the liberal criminal justice reform measures comes as he insists he does not support the radical position of defunding police. His assertion, however, is undercut by the fact that his largest single campaign contributor last year was from an organization led by vocal and well-heeled proponents of defunding law enforcement.
“(Barnes) has strictly been carrying their water for them,” Sanfelippo said. “When you listen to the things he says and does, it’s not surprising, which is very unfortunate because all you’ve got to do is look at what the reality is out there.”
The reality is record homicides in Milwaukee, many of them committed by repeat violent offenders.
Advocates for liberal bail reform laws insist ending cash bail has little impact on crime rates; the data tell a different story.
In Chicago, for instance, the Office of the Chief Judge of the Cook County Courts adopted new bail reform measures in September 2017 and reviewed their impact two years later. Cook County’s Bail Reform Study concluded that the new procedures had released many more defendants before trial without any concomitant increase in crime.
But a follow-up study from the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah found “the new changes to pretrial release procedures appear to have led to a substantial increase in crimes committed by pretrial releasees in Cook County.”
“Properly measured and estimated, after more generous release procedures were put in place, the number of released defendants charged with committing new crimes increased by 45%. And, more concerning, the number of pretrial releasees charged with committing new violent crimes increased by an estimated 33%,” the 2020 study found.
The Republican-controlled Legislature this session is advancing several public safety bills, including measures that would check low bail/no bail courts and prosecutors like Chisholm. On Tuesday, the Senate passed a resolution for a proposed constitutional amendment giving judges more flexibility while setting cash bail amounts. The resolution, author by Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) and Rep. Cindi Duchow (R-Delafield) allows judges to consider the seriousness of an alleged crime, the past violent criminal history of a defendant, the danger to a community, in addition to the likelihood that the defendant would return to court when setting cash bail.
“Most people don’t realize that under the Wisconsin constitution a judge can only set cash bail in an amount to ensure a person returns to trial. That’s it,” Wanggaard said. “This proposal gives judges the flexibility to protect the community when setting cash bail. It’s common sense.”
Another bill by Sen. Julian Bradley (R-Franklin) requires information about how district attorneys and court officials set bail also passed the Senate.
“Transparency is desperately needed in our justice system,” Bradley said. “Our DAs and judges must know there will be thorough scrutiny of their decisions to set bail that allows dangerous criminals to commit violent and deadly crimes. The crime epidemic in our state is out of control, and this bill would create a helpful tool to let the public take action and hold their elected officials accountable.”
But Sanfelippo says he has little faith Evers will break with the far left on crime legislation. He expects the governor to liberally use his veto pen.
“Unless he decides to tune out the far left zealots and listen to the majority of citizens on this we’re going to see more of the same unfortunately,” the lawmaker said. “There is none more blind than he who will not see.”