By Gretchen Schuldt
Legislators, especially Republicans, keep embracing harsher criminal penalties by introducing bills to create new crimes or make harsher sentences for existing offenses. Here are some recent efforts. Authors and sponsors of the measures are shown in the table at the bottom of the post.
Senate Bill 79/Assembly Bill 84 – Prohibiting some people convicted of felonies from possessing vicious dogs
Certain felons would be banned from possessing, controlling, or living with vicious dogs, under this bill. The prohibitions would apply to people convicted of violent felonies, including battery, sexual assault, and drug offenses. Violations would carry different penalties: a simple violation would be punishable by up to a $10,000 fine or and nine months behind bars; a violation that results in a person or animal suffering great bodily harm or death would be punishable by a $10,000 fine and imprisonment for up to 3½ years; and a maximum penalty of six years in prison and a $10,000 fine could be posed if a person suffers great bodily harm or death because the offender knowingly allowed the dog to run loose or failed to take steps to control the dog.
The prohibition would be in effect for as long as the person is on supervision or for 10 years after being released from incarceration, or after conviction if the sentence did not include incarceration, or after a verdict of not guilty of a serious felony by reason of mental disease or defect.
A humane or law enforcement officer would determine if an animal is vicious based on certain criteria: whether the dog, unprovoked, has attacked a person or pet and caused serious injury or death; without justification has at least twice bitten a person or pet without causing serious injury or death; or has behaved in a manner that a reasonable person would believe posed a significant, imminent threat to a person or pet.
Exceptions to the prohibitions could be granted to people for employment purposes and who file a motion in court.
Senate Bill 86/Assembly Bill 57 – Requiring a judge's permission to dismiss a case or offer deferred prosecution agreement
Prosecutors would have to seek permission from judges to dismiss certain charges against defendants, even if a prosecutor learns the defendant is innocent of the charge or believes the evidence does not support the charge, under a Republican-backed bill.
The bill would also prohibit prosecutors from offering deferred prosecution agreements to individuals charged or who could possibly be charged with certain crimes.
The Assembly bill won support from two police organizations – the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association and the Wisconsin State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police – and an insurance group at a public hearing before the Assembly Judiciary Committee. The ACLU of Wisconsin registered in opposition.
"We support this bill because of the revolving door that Milwaukee has become for criminals, and this has had a detrimental impact not only for Milwaukee but the communities that surround Milwaukee," Milwaukee Police Association Vice President Alexander Ayala told the committee. "Time after time we see someone arrested for a crime or several crimes only to later discover that some if not most charges were dismissed or amended to a lower crimes (sic) by a district attorney."
"Now we understand that the workload for a DA is only growing, especially for Milwaukee county DA's, due to their staffing shortages and now it becomes the perfect storm of catch and dismiss," Ayala said. "We believe that the list of crimes set forth here are some of the crimes that have a high impact on quality-of-life issues and they (sic) should be an approval process in place if DA's are going to dismiss or amend charges."
The bill would require a prosecutor to seek a judge's OK to dismiss or amend a charge if the existing charge is:
The bill does not indicate where innocence would fit within those two categories.
Courts would be required to submit annual reports to the legislature detailing every dismissal or amended charge allowed.
The bill also would prohibit prosecutors from offering deferred prosecution agreements to anyone charged with those same crimes or who could be charged with those crimes.
"Each time deferred prosecution allows a dangerous person back into our communities it puts our communities and our officers at risk," said Howard Handler, senior director for strategy, policy and government affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, an industry group. "Too often we have seen deferred prosecution agreements that result in serious injury or death. This bill creates accountability in our judicial system by prohibiting deferred prosecution for serious crimes."
Senate Bill 87/Assembly Bill 87 – Restitution for OWI deaths
A judge could order a drunk driver who kills the parent of minor children to pay the costs of caring for the children until they are 18, under this bill.
"When setting restitution payed to a parent or guardian of a victim's child, the court may also consider the financial needs and resources of the child and the surviving parent or guardian, the standard of living that the child is accustomed to, the child's emotional needs and physical and legal custody arrangements, and the reasonable work-related child care expenses of the surviving parent or guardian," the Legislative Reference Bureau said in a summary of the bill.
Any restitution award granted under the bill would offset a subsequent award in a civil suit, according to the bill.
Senate Bill 96/Assembly Bill 70 – Encouraging riots
It would be illegal to urge, promote, organize, encourage, or instigate a riot, under the bill. The "riot" could involve as few as three people and no damage to property or harm to any individual is required. "Riot" is defined as "a public disturbance that involves an act of violence...that constitutes a clear and present danger of property damage or personal injury or a threat of an act of violence, as part of an assembly of at least three persons having the ability of immediate execution of the threat, if the threatened action constitutes a clear and present danger of property damage or personal injury."
Violations would be punishable by up to 3½ years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Committing an act of violence during a riot would be punishable by up to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The ACLU of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Conservation Voters registered against the proposal. The Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association registered in favor.
"This bill should hold accountable those who want to make a peaceful protest a violent one. Acts of violence while in a protest can incite a riot and those people need to be charged," the Milwaukee Police Association's Ayala said in testimony before the Judiciary Committee. "Riots destroy neighborhoods, hurt innocent people, business and first responders that are trying to do their jobs.
"I have now been involved in two separate incidents of protest that turned into riots," he said. "One in 2016 when a gas station was burned down in District 7 along with other business and squad cars. My second one in 2020 when as a detective and (sic) had to put on my riot gear and stand in line to protect our Police Administration Building located downtown. That day the group of several hundred people remained peaceful, but you could feel the tension in the air and at any moment the protest could turn into a riot."
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