WJI is taking a look at justice-related bills adopted during the 2019-20 session.
2019 Act 112 increases the penalty for intimidating a witness when the witness is a victim of domestic abuse. Intimidating a witness, except when there are aggravating circumstances, is a misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine. The bill makes intimidating a domestic violence victim punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
The law was introduced as Assembly Bill 804. Its companion bill was SenateBill 767.
The lead authors of AB 804 were State Representatives Daniel Knodl (R-Germantown) and Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin). The lead sponsors of SB 767 were State Senators Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Andre Jacques (R-DePere).
The measure passed the Assembly on a 67-32 vote, generally along party lines. Four Democrats joined all Republicans in voting for the measure. The four were Steve Doyle (D-Onalaska), Beth Meyers (D-Bayfield), Nick Milroy (D-South Range), and Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa). The Senate also approved the measure with only Senators Mark Miller (D-Monona) and Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) opposing it.
Gov. Tony Evers signed it into law on Feb. 28,2020.
No fiscal estimates were filed.
Knodl and Darling - Prosecutors and law enforcement have highlighted the growing problem of witness intimidation in Wisconsin. Milwaukee, in particular, has been hard hit, with a recent Journal-Sentinel investigation identifying that 23% of charged homicide cases were impacted by documented instances of witnesses failing to appear in court to testify. Despite Milwaukee being a national leader in proactive actions to prevent witness intimidation, it remains a problem in the city and throughout the state. Increasing protections for crime victims and witnesses is important, particularly in cases of domestic abuse. We should be making it harder for criminals to continue terrorizing our communities, not easier. This legislation moves us in the right direction.
State Public Defender’s Office - As with most penalty enhancers or mandatory minimum sentences, evidence does not demonstrate that they serve as an effective deterrent.
The bill is unlike other laws that increase the penalty for witness intimidation because it is based on the underlying crime, not the degree or type of intimidation involved, SPD said.
This could present the hypothetical scenario that intimidation of a witness in a domestic abuse crime is treated more severely that intimidation of a witness in a homicide even if the type of intimidation employed is similar.
End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin – The intent of this legislation is laudable, and we appreciate and share lawmakers' goal of supporting survivors. However, End Abuse opposes the idea that increased sentencing is the solution to ending domestic violence. Criminalization has been the primary response to domestic abuse in the U.S. for 30 years, and the results are disappointing. The failure of the criminal legal system to seriously decrease neither incidence nor the severity of intimate partner violence highlights the limits of a one-dimensional approach to a multi-dimensional problem. Increasing penalties will do very little to protect survivors of violence....
Imagine the impact this legislation would have on a victim, assumed to be an abuser, entering the criminal legal system. Requiring that victim intimidation in domestic violence cases is charged as a felony, rather than looking at incidents on a case by case basis, removes judicial discretion and the exploration of other remedies or appropriate charges.
Intimate partner violence (IPV) has overlapping economic, community, public health, and human rights facets. Viewing intimate partner violence through each of these frames opens new avenues for addressing the problem. IPV will continue unabated if policymakers continue to focus on punishment and fail to focus on economic inequality and instability. The evidence is clear that IPV is more prevalent and more severe in the context of economic distress. Poor people, particularly poor women, are more vulnerable to IPV and few policy dollars are allocated to programs that would directly reduce that risk.
Victims and advocates talk frequently about lack of access to legal aid, underfunding of county victim witness units, chronically overworked and underpaid DAs and public defenders, restrictions on access to Medicaid and other lifesaving benefits, sparse or nonexistent affordable housing in their area, and an insufficient focus on interpersonal violence in our education system. These are just a handful of resources that can, when made accessible and adequately funded, make a difference. Individuals who receive assistance in securing material resources are significantly less likely to experience psychological and physical abuse after leaving shelter and report greater improvements in their quality of life. Therefore, economic policy may have more potential to seriously decrease IPV than other policy interventions.
Let us not forget that incarceration is expensive. We're talking about spending a considerable amount of taxpayer dollars, over 10 years, to house an individual who has intimidated a victim. Imagine if we provided supportive housing for that victim instead. What would it look like if we used those funds to provide survivors with the support they need to live a life free from violence? What if we listened to their voices? Survivors across the state are not telling us that we need to be tougher in sentencing. They're telling us that they need affordable housing and childcare. They're telling us that their partners need help. They're telling us that incarceration is not justice.
Registering for the bill: Badger State Sheriff's Association, Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association Inc., Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association.
Registering against the bill: City of Milwaukee, End Domestic Violence: the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Wisconsin District Attorneys Association, Wisconsin Justice Initiative Inc.
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