By Gretchen Schuldt
The Wisconsin Justice Initiative and the American Constitution Society Milwaukee Lawyer Chapter are teaming up to refresh WJI's Pot Page with court data from across the state.
WJI, in a previous version of the page, examined felony marijuana cases – possession of marijuana, second offense or greater – in Milwaukee County. That project pretty clearly illustrated that African-American men on the North Side of Milwaukee are disproportionately charged with that crime.
The new page already is uncovering some interesting information. In Milwaukee County, for example, there was one marijuana case filed last year for every 3,292 residents; in the much smaller Ashland County, at the top of the state, there was one marijuana case filed for every 371 residents. In other words, Ashland County law enforcement is much more aggressive in prosecuting marijuana crimes when population is factored in.
Surprisingly, there were just as many women charged – 15 – in Ashland County as there were in Milwaukee County. Those women accounted for 36 percent of the 42 Ashland County cases, but just five percent of the 288 Milwaukee County cases.
Follow along as we look at data from all 72 counties.
By Gretchen Schuldt
The City of Milwaukee, just five months into the year, already is in borrowing mode to pay off court settlements related to police conduct, a financing strategy that increases costs for taxpayers and leaves them with nothing to show for their money.
The city will borrow $2 million to pay the family of a man who died in the back of a squad car, and will borrow another $2.3 million to pay the family of a man who died in jail of an epileptic seizure about 18 hours after telling police he did not have his regular dose of anti-seizure medicine, according to city documents and Budget and Management Director Dennis Yaccarino.
Interest alone could add a million dollars or more to the total price tag over the life of the bonds, depending on their longevity and interest rates.
Ideally, state and local governments use bonds to pay for large capital projects that are expected to last a long time, like roads, bridges, and schools. Borrowing for these types of projects allows governments to spread the costs over decades to ensure that future beneficiaries of the projects share in the costs.
Borrowing for police-related settlements, however, is on the increase not only in Milwaukee, but across the country.
Here, Yaccarino said, "It is a challenge to continue to budget core city services with no growth in revenues and have no ability to set up a funding mechanism for court settlements that eliminates borrowing without impacting those core services."
The city traditionally has relied on a $5 million contingent fund to pay settlements that exceeded the amount budgeted for them, he said.
This year, though, Yaccarino said, snow and ice removal costs are running $4.3 million over budget, melting away much of the contingent fund.
The city's uncomfortable position is not unique to 2019. Budget figures show it is now common for the city to pay out more in damages and claims than the total $5 million budgeted in the contingent fund.
Last year, the city borrowed $6.2 million to cover damages and claims like the police-related lawsuits it needs to borrow for now, according to city bonding documents.
The indictment filed by Milwaukee Ald. Willie Wade, charged in federal court with three counts of wire fraud, is below.
It concerns an alleged fake bribery scheme cooked up by Wade.
That alleged fake scheme, had it been real and had Wade routed the money through some sort of political action committee or campaign fund, might be called "lobbying."
Victoriano Heredia was 17 years old in 1997 when he participated in a restaurant robbery that turned into a homicide.
The victim's name was Charles B. Counsell. He was popular and active in Marshall. He was mourned deeply by many.
Heredia was not the leader in planning or carrying out the crime, and he did not kill Counsell himself. He was there, though, he participated in the robbery, and he helped with an unsuccessful effort to move Counsell's body up a flight of stairs.
He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, party to a crime and in January 1998 was sentenced by Dane County Circuit Judge Patrick J. Fiedler to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 13 years.
"I don't pretend to be omniscient, but based upon everything I know about you, I am satisfied today that I don't think you will ever commit another crime of this nature again. ... I don't think we should give up on you just yet," Fiedler said.
Heredia has been in prison now for 21 years. He is 39 years old, more than twice as old as he was when he was convicted.
He is a plaintiff in the ACLU's lawsuit challenging life sentences for juveniles. The plaintiffs are not denying their crimes. They are not contesting their convictions.
They are asking for a true shot at parole.
"Currently, Wisconsin prisons hold 127 men serving life sentences for homicides committed when they were under 18 years old." – From "Juvenile Lifers: Reforming Extreme Sentences." Wisconsin Lawyer magazine.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Getting a ticket instead of being charged with a crime might seem like a lucky break, but that ticket can get you added to a criminal database and ultimately hurt future job and housing opportunities, according to Kori Ashley, staff attorney with Legal Action of Wisconsin.
If that ticket is accompanied by arrest and fingerprinting the information can go – and sometimes must go – to the State Department of Justice and become part of a Crime Information Bureau criminal background report provided to anyone who asks for it and pays $7, Ashley said.
"I would say to never ignore the ticket," said Ashley, who represents indigent defendants in Milwaukee Municipal Court. "I would treat this ticket just like I would treat a criminal summons I received in the mail because ultimately, if you have been fingerprinted, it will show up on your background report, just like a criminal arrest and charge."
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