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Re-writing bail laws could come with unintended consequences

Right now, bail in Wisconsin is designed to work as an incentive for defendants to return to court for trial.
Constitutional Amendments Wisconsin
Posted at 3:38 PM, Jan 19, 2023

A scarred tree trunk on Appleton Avenue is a permanent reminder of what happened here to Danari Peer.

On Oct. 5, Peer was killed when the car he was riding in crashed violently.

Police estimate the car's driver was flooring the accelerator. Its speed on impact was more than 100 miles per hour.

Peer's father, Jackie, believes this crash would never have happened if the person at the wheel was not let out repeatedly on low bail.

RELATED COVERAGE: Update: Wisconsin Assembly passes bail reform, will be on April ballot

"Jaiquann McMurtry had four pending felony charges including bail jumping, so he shouldn't have been on the street," Peer said.

Jaiquann McMurtry was the driver.

Court records show three previous cases where McMurtry was released on a signature or cash bond of less than $1000.

Since then, the Peer family has been pushing for tougher bail policies they believe would have

"My son would still be here if they did what they're supposed to do and that's protect the public," he said."

Veteran defense attorney Jonathan LaVoy is not convinced major bail reform is needed.

He worries the legislature's good intentions could have bad consequences.

"If we start holding a lot of people in custody just because they're accused of committing a crime, we're going to be punishing them before they're convicted in court," LaVoy said.

Right now, bail in Wisconsin is designed to work as an incentive for defendants to return to court for trial.

LaVoy sees the bail system proposed by Republicans in Madison as a way to lock someone up without a trial. That will disproportionately hurt defendants who don't have deep pockets.

"That's going to have an effect on people with low income, people that are unable to post bail. People who have money are going to be able to get out. This will have a negative impact on the most poorest in or communities," LaVoy said.

Wisconsin Assembly passes bail reform, will be on April ballot

The Wisconsin State Assembly passed a constitutional amendment 74-23 Thursday to add a question regarding bail reform to the April ballot.

Right now in Wisconsin, judges set bail to see that offenders return to court. Under the amendment, a judge would be required to review an offender's past crimes and convictions before setting bail.

Supporters argue it will help keep violent criminals off the street. But opponents argue it will disproportionately impact the Black community.

As the Associated Press reports, "putting the amendment on the April ballot gives the Republican-controlled Legislature a chance to score an early win in the new legislative session while avoiding a veto from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. The proposal’s popularity with conservatives could also drive supporters to the polls in a pivotal election that will determine ideological control of the state Supreme Court."

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