By Gretchen Schuldt
African Americans were defendants in more than three-fourths of the marijuana possession cases opened in Municipal Court last year, despite accounting for just 39% of the city's population.
Blacks were defendants in 462, or 77% of the 603 cases filed. Whites were defendants in 63 cases, or 10% of cases filed; Hispanics were defendants in 62 cases, also 10%; and Asians in 11 cases (2%), according to court statistics. Just one Native American was a defendant, and four defendants were of unknown races.
"Frankly, these numbers are outrageous," WJI President Craig Johnson said. WJI actively advocates for cannabis legalization.
The figures "illustrate once again the disparate impact of cannabis prohibition laws on communities of color," he said. "Just as is the case with state criminal prosecutions, the numbers regarding Milwaukee Municipal Court citations show that African Americans are cited far more often than whites - and studies have consistently shown that both groups use marijuana at the same rates."
"My position is that possession of marijuana cases must meet the standard of clear, satisfactory and convincing evidence to obtain a conviction. If 0.3 percent THC could be from the legal possession of hemp, then the ordinance violation should not be referred to court for prosecution." - Vince Bobot, candidate for Milwaukee city attorney
More defendants had home addresses in the predominantly African American zip codes of 53206 and 53209 – 65 and 64, respectively – than in any other Milwaukee zip code. (See map)
The city is 45% white, 39% African American, 19% Hispanic, 4% Asian, and 1 percent American Indian / Alaska Native, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Tickets for marijuana possession "shouldn't be dismissed as insignificant," Johnson said. "They can lead to warrants if unpaid, and can have a heavy financial burden on those who receive them, especially young people. They can also have an adverse impact on employment, rental applications and other areas of life. Wisconsin must join other Midwestern states in legalizing marijuana so that this source of disparity in our justice system can be eradicated."
Milwaukee home zip codes of defendants in 2019 Municipal Court possession of marijuana cases.
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.
By Gretchen Schuldt
The number of criminal bail jumping charges resolved in the state jumped 134 percent from 2000 to 2016 and the number of those charges dismissed soared 170 percent, according to a new Wisconsin Law Review paper.
In 2000, bail jumping accounted for 7 percent of criminal charges adjudicated in the state; in 2016, that figure was 17 percent.
The data suggest that bail jumping charges are used to induce defendants "to plead to their original charge rather than to punish them for violating their bond conditions," Amy Johnson wrote in "The Use of Wisconsin's Bail Jumping Statute: A Legal and Quantitative Analysis."
Johnson's conclusion, buttressed by her quantitative findings, is something that defense lawyers also have argued based on their courtroom experiences.
Felony bail jumping occurs when a person out on bond on a felony charge violates the conditions of that bond. Misdemeanor bail jumping occurs when a person out on bond on a misdemeanor charge violates the conditions of that bond.
A bail jumping offense may not by itself be a crime. Missing a court date, violating a local ordinance, or having a drink could all be bail jumping offenses if bond conditions prohibit those things.
Misdemeanor bail jumping carries a maximum penalty of nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine; felony bail jumping carries a maximum penalty of six years in prison and a 10,000 fine.
The charges and penalties mean that a person charged with, for example, a felony that carries a two-year maximum sentence could face an additional six years in prison if they violate their bond in any way.
There were 11,567 bail jumping misdemeanor and felony charges adjudicated in 2000 and 27,042 in 2016, an increase of 15,475. Of those resolved charges, 7,385, or 64%, were dismissed in 2000; by 2016, dismissals increased to 19,946, or 74% of bail jumping cases resolved.
The 74 percent figure "is particularly informative considering that for all other fully adjudicated charges in 2016 the percentage dismissed was a significantly lower 47.32% (61,852 of 130,713 charges)," Johnson wrote.
Johnson's paper, published as a comment, called for state courts to embrace reforms that "prevents extreme numbers of bail jumping charges. Doing so would reduce the leverage effect that prosecutors have without eliminating it entirely."
The courts’ past and current interpretations of the bail jumping statute has “led to an increase in bail jumping charges, absurd consequences, and potential sentences to the charged crimes,” she wrote. “The result is that defendants are at a marked disadvantage when negotiating plea deals.”
The Wisconsin Supreme Court, for example, has held that a defendant can be charged with multiple counts of bail jumping for violating a single bond. Johnson, as an example cited the example of a J.E., a composite of clients in actual cases she worked on during a 2016 legal internship.
J.E., she said, is an alcoholic homeless man who got into a disturbance with another man on Madison’s State Street. Both men were charged with disorderly conduct; both admitted to being under the influence of alcohol. J.E. was granted a signature bond, but as conditions of that bond, was ordered to maintain absolute sobriety and to stay away from State Street.
A few weeks later police arrested an intoxicated J.E. on State Street. He was charged with two counts of misdemeanor bail jumping.
J.E.’s potential imprisonment suddenly jumped from a maximum of three months to a maximum of 21 months, Johnson wrote.
“Ultimately, J.E. agreed to a plea deal that would dismiss the bail jumping charges if he pled guilty to the disorderly conduct….,” Johnson wrote. “Even if he was acquitted of the disorderly conduct, he would still have been subject to the bail jumping charges, and the likelihood of conviction resulting from those charges was too great for him not to take the plea.”
Johnson graduated this spring from the University of Wisconsin Law School. Before she enrolled, she was an IT project manager and analyst for more than 20 years. During that time, she managed large software projects and gained considerable experience analyzing data.
She said she got interested in the bail jumping topic when she read a State Supreme Court bail jumping decision, State v. Anderson. The court held that it was fine and dandy to issue multiple criminal charges for multiple violations of a single bond. In her paper, Johnson said that then-Justice Janine Geske, in a dissent, "points out a variety of scenarios where a detailed set of bond conditions that are violated could result in punishments that far exceed the initial crime."
She continued: "This seems particularly outrageous when many conceivable conditions, like not drinking or not being in a certain area of town, are not criminal acts in and of themselves. A defendant with one criminal felony count could end up with punishment for violating bail conditions that far exceed the punishment for the crime itself."
Geske’s dissent, Johnson said in an email, “rang very true based my anecdotal observations while working with clients that had bail jumping charges. I was curious about whether she was right or not.”
Johnson’s planned paper “turned into a research project that took hundreds of hours," she said.
Johnson analyzed Wisconsin Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP) data for the years 2000 through 2016. The data included more than 1.6 million cases and 3.2 million charges.
Statewide, disorderly conduct was the most frequently resolved offense in 2000, while misdemeanor bail jumping – charged when the underlying crime is a misdemeanor – was the fifth most common charge. Felony bail jumping was the tenth most commonly adjudicated crime.
"Combined, bail jumping was third overall but the number of bail jumping charges was less than half of the number of disorderly conduct charges," she wrote.
That changed dramatically by 2016.
"Disorderly conduct was first," she wrote. "Misdemeanor and felony bail jumping were second and third, respectively. However, combined, bail jumping was the number one charge in Wisconsin, ahead of disorderly conduct by over 5,000 charges."
The number of cases with multiple bail jumping counts loaded on to them also have increased, Johnson wrote.
In 2000, 23 percent of bail jumping cases closed had more than bail jumping charge; in 2016, the percentage was 35 percent.
"Were Justice Geske’s assertions in her dissent in Anderson correct?" Johnson wrote. "Has the bail jumping statute and its interpretations resulted in a large number of bail jumping charges and an excessive exposure to penalties? The CCAP data suggests that she was indeed correct."
By Gretchen Schuldt
Wisconsin's adult incarceration rate has passed the national average, according to a new federal report.
The state locks up a larger share of its population than does any of its neighboring states of Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, or Iowa, according to a new federal report.
It's a significant change in status – the state has lagged behind or matched the average incarceration rate for the past several years.
The statistics are based on 2016 data, and so do not reflect the impacts of legislative changes, such as tougher drunk driving laws that are sending more people to prison.
Wisconsin jails or imprisoned 790 out of every 100,000 adults, while the nationwide average for states was 780 per 100,000, according to the report, "Correctional Populations in the United States, 2016."
Michael O'Hear, a Marquette University Law School professor and author of Wisconsin Sentencing in the Tough-on-Crime Era: How Judges Retained Power and Why Mass Incarceration Happened Anyway, said the state's incarceration rate actually was much lower than the national average in the 1970s. That the rate rose above the national average carries symbolic weight, even though the the actual increase from the previous year was relatively small.
The state's incarceration rate in 2015 was 780 per 100,000 residents, the same as the national average. In 2014, the state locked up 770 people per 100,000, while the national average for states was 800 people per 100,000.
The figures include people aged 18 years and older in prisons and local jails, according to the report, published by the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The severity of crime is not the issue, O'Hear said. "The increased rate I don't think at all is dictated by the violent crime rate," he said.
Instead, he said, the increase is attributable to "thousands and thousands of decisions made by hundreds of officials all across the state." Those involved include police, prosecutors, judges, and Department of Corrections employees, he said.
The $40 per hour the state pays private lawyers to defend indigent clients also is an issue, he said. The rate is the lowest in the nation.
"Assigned counsel pay is a scandal in Wisconsin," he said. "Forty dollars an hour is just not a figure that will work for an experienced, competent attorney."
With so many players involved, O'Hear said, it is not so easy to answer the question "How do you deal with this?"
The figures indicate the state has decided to rely on imprisonment, but there are other things it could do, such as increase funding for treatment and diversion programs, he said.
Expanding compassionate release to allow sick and elderly inmates out of prison also would help, as would implementing good time to allow inmates to shave time off their sentences. Most states have good time programs, but Wisconsin does not, O'Hear said.
Ending the practice of sending back to prison people on probation or extended supervision who violate Department of Correction rules, but are who are not accused of new crimes would help, too.
O'Hear, asked what he would do if he could do just one thing, said he would "cut maximum sentences in half. ...They grew a lot in the last generation."
Meanwhile, the state's prisons are overcrowded and a study is underway to determine if the state should add to its inventory.
"I think they will build more," O'Hear said. "I hope they don't."
By Gretchen Schuldt
Drug possession, bail jumping and traffic crime cases were the major drivers pushing Wisconsin's felony caseload up 8 percent last year, statistics show.
Circuit courts around the state in 2017 opened:
The number of all felony cases opened in the state rose from 39,171 in 2016 to 42,197, an increase of 3,026.
The numbers, provided by the Wisconsin Courts System do not reflect every charge filed, but the cases opened in which a drug possession charge was the most serious, or first listed.
Drug possession was the most common felony case opened in Wisconsin, accounting for about 19% of felonies filed in the state last year. The 14% increase doubtless reflects the increased presence of opioids and methamphetamine in the state.
Felony bail-jumping charges are criticized by defense lawyers for the negotiating advantage they give to prosecutors. There have been double-digit increases in felony bail jumping cases every year except one during the past six years – their numbers rose 20 percent in 2012, 11 percent in 2013, 6 percent in 2014, 12 percent in 2015, and 11 percent in 2016. They accounted for just under 19% of felony case openings statewide.
Felony bail jumping ranks second in the type of case opened. Felony bail jumping occurs when person out on bond in a felony case violates the condition of the bond, even if the violation is itsef not a crime. Having a beer in defiance of an "absolute sobriety" order, for example, could subject a person to a felony bail jumping charge, as could missing a drug test or a court date. Felony bail jumping is punishable by up to six years in prison, which may well be a longer sentence than the offender faces for the original crime.
The big jump in felony traffic cases last year was driven, no doubt, by tougher drunk driving laws that made fourth offense drunk driving a felony rather than a misdemeanor. There were 2,469 felony drunk driving cases opened statewide in 2017, up 40%, or 701 cases, from the 1,768 felony drunk driving cases filed in 2016, according to statistics.
The biggest declines were in burglary and armed robbery cases, according to the statistics.
Burglary cases dropped from 2,002 cases in 2016 to 1,830 cases last year, down 172 cases, or 9 percent. Armed robbery cases 706 in 2016 to 553 last year, down 153, or 22%.
By Gretchen Schuldt
West Allis municipal ordinance violators last year spent a total of 21.5 inmate years in the House of Correction because they did not pay their fines.
That is more time than the 18.7 inmate years non-paying ordinance violators from all 18 other county municipalities served, according to preliminary House of Correction figures.
Because municipal violations are considered civil offenses, rather than criminal, defendants are not entitled to legal counsel. Municipal violations are petty offenses such as disorderly conduct, littering, and traffic violations that are handled through tickets and municipal courts operated by cities and villages.
West Allis' 2017 commitment total was up 3.1 years, from the 18.4 years ordinance violators in that city spent locked up in 2016, according to House data.
In contrast, Bayside, Hales Corners, Shorewood, Whitefish Bay, and West Milwaukee did not send anyone to the House for non-payment of forfeitures in 2017, according to the figures.
A total of 11 municipalities showed a drop in the number of days municipal offenders were locked up. St. Francis showed the biggest decline in days. It sent ordinance violators to the House for a total of 888 days in 2016 and 155 in 2017, a decline of 733 days, or two inmate years.
Bayside, Fox Point, Glendale, Greendale, Greenfield, Oak Creek, River Hills, South Milwaukee, Wauwatosa, and Milwaukee also showed declines.
Milwaukee's figures might be misleading because some Milwaukee's municipal commitments are served at the County Jail, not at the House, where the vast majority of suburban commitments are served.
House commitment days increased in Brown Deer, Cudahy, and Franklin, in addition to West Allis, according to the preliminary figures.
West Allis forfeitures for municipal violations are some of the highest in the county. A simple marijuana possession charge, for example, carried a $1,321 price tag.
That also was the case in 2015, according to a Public Policy Forum report. Meanwhle, the same offense in Bayside typically carried, typically, a $691 financial hit; in Shorewood, the cost was $376; in Wauwatosa, $100 - $200.
State law requires municipalities to reduce the amount of an unpaid Municipal Court fine by at least $50 for each day a violator is jailed, and most (but not all) municipalities hold to the $50 amount. So an unpaid Wauwatosa marijuana citation that would result in a four- to six-day stay in the House would mean in a 26-day stay if the ticket was issued in West Allis.
By Gretchen Schuldt
The black / white racial disparity in traffic stops by Milwaukee police was highest in the two police districts with the greatest share of white residents, a Department of Justice study shows.
The disparity was greatest in District 6 on the city's far south side. The district is about 70% white, according to the report, yet whites accounted for just 22 percent of traffic stops. African Americans, meanwhile, accounted for 3 percent of the population, but 64 percent of the traffic stops. Hispanics make up 21 percent of the population, and accounted for 14 percent of the traffic stops.
In real numbers, blacks were stopped 29,834 times from 2013 to 2015 in District 6; whites were stopped 10,407 times, and Hispanics, 6,335 times.
The second greatest disparity was in District 2, also on the south side, where African Americans accounted for 8 percent of the population, but 63 percent of the traffic stops.
"The disparity could be a result of the traffic enforcement strategy used by MPD," according to the draft copy of the report, which is all that was released before DOJ ended the study. There are "several" factors that could account for the racial and ethnic variation in traffic stops, the report said.
The report now is the subject of a review by a community committee, which will make recommendations to the city for MPD improvement implementation.
The table below shows the racial disparity in traffic stops in each police district. It shows the racial makeup of the district, the number of traffic stops by race, the percentage of the total traffic stops for each race, and a racial disparity score.
The disparity score is simply the difference between the population percentage by race and the traffic stop percentage by race. For example, District 5 is 76% black, but African Americans accounted for 67% of all traffic stops, a difference of minus 9 percentage points, which is reflected in the "Disparity" column.
The higher the number in that column, the more over represented that particular ethnic group is in traffic stops; the lower, the more under represented.
District 5 is the only district in which African Americans fall into the under represented category.
Conversely, whites were over represented in traffic stops only in District 2 and 5, and were under represented in the other five.
On average, the disparity score for whites was -17; for Hispanics, -4; and for African Americans, +27.
More traffic stop tickets, arrests for black drivers in Milwaukee despite consistent arrest, citation rates
By Gretchen Schuldt
Despite bearing the bulk of the burden of traffic stops by police targeting high-crime areas, African-American drivers in Milwaukee were no more likely to be ticketed or arrested than their white counterparts, according to a Department of Justice draft report.
Arrests were made in just 2% of traffic stops of African-American drivers, the same rate as for white and Hispanic drivers, according to the draft report.
Because so many more black drivers were stopped, however, the actual number arrested - 6,247 from 2013 to 2015 - was the highest among the three groups. There were 1,216 Hispanics and 1,920 whites arrested after traffic stops over the same time period.
That number / ratio disparity is true with citations as well. Black drivers and white drivers received traffic citations in 15% of stops, but because so many more black drivers were stopped - 273,712 compared to 88,037 - the number of traffic citations issued to black drivers was three times higher than the number issued to whites - 41,629 compared to 13,315.
Hispanic drivers received 8,766 traffic citations, or in 16% of stops.
Because high-crime areas generally correlate with low-income areas, the police strategy likely results in many more fines for low-income black residents in the city.
For the three races considered, the most likely outcome in a traffic stop was a verbal warning, which was given in 74% of cases involving white and African-American drivers and in 71% of cases involving Hispanics. (The Police Department prohibited verbal warnings in 2015.)
A simple stop could take as long as 45 minutes, even if it resulted in only a warning, the report says. The time involved can exacerbate "the negative impact of data-driven policing on the community," the report says.
The draft report, the Department of Justice Collaborative Reform Initiative Assessment Report, says that the Milwaukee Police Department focused enforcement efforts in high-crime areas, or "hot spots."
While data-driven policing is effective, the report says, "what police do at those locations can have both positive and negative consequences for crime and community trust."
Officers interviewed, the report says, were skeptical of the traffic stop strategy. "They were never told of the rationale behind the focus on the traffic stops, they did not believe that the traffic stop strategy would reduce crime, and they feel pressured to conduct traffic stops," the report says.
In addition, although the department denied it had a quota, "many officers indicated that the felt they had a quota of two traffic stops per shift," the report says. "If they did not achieve those numbers, the believed there would be some sort of retribution."
Community members participating in the study said they understood that police were focusing on high-crime areas, but "they felt that many innocent individuals are being stopped, harassed, and detained unduly simply because they lived in the community. ... We also heard complaints about 'curbing,' where individuals are asked to move away from their stopped car and sit on the curb or sidewalk while an officer interviews a driver or searches the car. Community members felt this practice was biased and disrespectful. ..."
By Gretchen Schuldt
Municipal Court traffic cases were down 13 percent during the first nine months of the year compared to the same time period last year, court records show.
Overall, there were 31,515 traffic cases in Milwaukee Municipal Court through September, down 4,912 from the number in the same time period last year, an average drop of 546 cases per month.
The court does not originate the cases - the statistics reflect the activity of the Milwaukee Police Department.
The number of traffic cases jumped sharply in August and September as public pressure about the issue got through to police.
The Police Department is using a data-driven system, Data Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACT), to identify traffic enforcement target areas, Asst. Police Chief James Harpole said. DDACT effort was made a priority enforcement tool in April, he told the Common Council's Public Safety and Health Committee.
Steve O'Connell of the Sherman Park Neighborhood Association listed for committee members some high-accident areas around Sherman Park.
Sherman Park residents gathered signatures on petitions seeking a written plan from the Police Department on how it will step up traffic enforcement in the city. The petitions also ask that police be required to report to the committee monthly on how many traffic tickets they issue. The circulators collected 76 pages of signatures without too much effort, O'Connell said.
The number of tickets issued by police has gone down dramatically over several years, he said.
"What's going on? Why less tickets? There's no reason for less tickets," he said.
Committee Chair Ald. Robert Donovan said bad driving was "epidemic" throughout the city.
"I am telling you, and you know damned well...that traffic safety in this city is for crap," Donovan told Harpole.
"Every single time I drive, I'm actually afraid," Ald Mark Borkowski said. He expressed some frustration with a police PowerPoint presentation on crime and traffic enforcement. "All I'm hearing is statistics," he said. "We all get these damned calls, and it's not right. These roads are out of control and it's not OK."
Harpole said traffic enforcement was a priority for the police.
"Our officers are putting forth a concerted effort every single day to make this city a safer place," he said.
The number of felony court cases opened in Wisconsin soared 18 percent over the five-year period that ended in 2016, according to state statistics.
The increase would have been even greater had not a 9 percent drop in Milwaukee County felony cases help offset the statewide jump.
The number of felony cases opened statewide increased by 6,068, from 33,103 in 2011 to 39,171 in 2016.
In Milwaukee County, in contrast, the number of felony cases opened fell by 578, from 6,121 in 2011 to 5,543 in 2016.
The figures count cases, not individual charges, and include cases in which the most serious charge is a felony.
An increase in the number of drug possession charges helped drive the statewide increase, but an even bigger factor was a jump in the number of felony bail jumping cases opened. Statewide, the number rose from 4,027 in 2011 to 7,034 in 2016, an increase of 3,007, or 75 percent.
In Milwaukee County, the number of felony bail jumping case rose 5 percent, from 249 to 262.
Bail jumping accounted for 18 percent of felony cases opened statewide last year, but just about five percent of felonies opened in Milwaukee County.
Felony bail jumping is criticized by defense lawyers as a charge issued by some prosecutors seeking to coerce a plea in the underlying case. Felony bail jumping carries a maximum penalty of six years in prison and the charge can be issued for non-criminal activity, such as missing a drug test or having a drink in violation of an absolute sobriety condition of bail.
The number of felony drug possession cases grew 41 percent statewide from 2011 to 2016, from 4,955 to 6,984. Milwaukee County saw a 42 percent decline in felony drug cases, 1,572 to 905.
Milwaukee County's largest increase came in an "other felony" category, up 405% from 2011 to 2016, from 125 to 631 cases opened. Felony traffic cases were up 44%, from 252 to 363 cases.
Felony Cases Opened, Wisconsin and Milwaukee County, 2011 to 2016
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