An amendment to the Wisconsin constitution that aims to prevent men like Waukesha Christmas Parade massacre suspect from getting out of jail on low bail was approved Tuesday by the state’s Assembly on a 70-21 vote.
The lower house of the Wisconsin legislature approved Assembly Joint Resolution 107 and sent it to the state Senate. If approved in the Senate, the amendment would be sent to the next session of the Wisconsin Legislature for approval before being put before voters.
“In Milwaukee, one in five individuals charged with killing or trying to kill someone is already out on bail for another crime,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) said in a statement. “More than half of those other crimes are also violent. The catch and release of violent offenders in our communities must end.
“What we saw in Waukesha was a tragedy. I am proud to support this constitutional amendment that would make horrific violence like that avoidable in the future.”
Darrell E. Brooks Jr., the Waukesha parade massacre suspect, was freed on $1,000 bail just two days before he allegedly drove his SUV over scores of Christmas parade participants. He is charged with six counts of first-degree intentional homicide in the massacre, as well as 71 other charges for the vehicular assault on the crowd. He pleaded not guilty. He is being held in lieu of $5 million bail.
Brooks was released on bail days before the parade in a case where he is charged with running over the mother of his child with the same SUV. At the time of that incident, Brooks was free on $500 bail in a 2020 case where he is accused of firing a handgun at a vehicle in which two people sat.
“Judges and court commissioners repeatedly tell me that they are not allowed to consider other common-sense factors when setting bail,” Rep. Cindi Duchow (R), author of the amendment, said in a statement. “As a result, violent criminals are given unspoken approval by the system itself to repeatedly victimize our communities. That’s not what the criminal justice system should do.”
Flexibility for Judges
The amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution would allow judges and court commissioners to consider the “totality of the circumstances” in cases involving violent crime. Considerations include a suspect’s record of violent crime conviction, need to protect the community from “serious harm,” need to prevent intimidation of witnesses and the probability the accused will fail to appear in court.
Democrat Wisconsin Attorney Gen. Josh Kaul said the amendment is “a small step in the right direction.”
“Rich people who commit serious crimes, drug kingpins, and gang leaders shouldn’t be able to pay their way out of jail before trial simply because they have access to money,” Kaul said in a statement. “When people charged with serious crimes present a danger to the public, they should be detained pretrial.”
The amendment will give judges and court commissioners “more flexibility when setting cash bail,” Rep. Jessie Rodriguez (R).
“Following the tragedy at the Waukesha Christmas Parade in November, we have all heard the calls for reform to our bail conditions in Wisconsin,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “Every Wisconsinite is entitled to due process, but every Wisconsinite is also entitled to be able to live without reasonable fear that a violent criminal will do them harm while out on bail.”
Much of the debate on bail reform has centered in Milwaukee County, where the bail policies of Democrat District Attorney John Chisholm have come under fire. After the parade massacre, Chisholm agreed the $1,000 bail was too low, based on a recommendation by one of his assistant prosecutors.
Republican critics of what they call Chisholm’s catch-and-release approach to bail demanded Chisholm be removed from office by Democrat Gov. Tony Evers.
A group of Milwaukee County residents filed a complaint against Chisholm with Evers, but the governor did not act on it. Evers said an analysis of the complaint showed it did not meet the threshold that would trigger removal of the district attorney.