Guest Column from Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R – Kaukauna)
Democrats Vote to Continue Unconstitutional Tactics against Law Abiding Citizens
Imagine for a moment that it’s early morning, you’re still in bed, and there’s a pounding on your door. You open the door to armed law enforcement holding a battering ram. After forcibly entering your home, they begin to confiscate your computers and phones. You’re confined to your family room which is guarded by an armed officer and you’re forbidden to call anyone, not even your family or a lawyer. Not only are you initially forbidden to tell anyone, you are never allowed to tell anyone even if you are never charged with a crime.
This is the exact scenario that occurred in a recent John Doe investigation that targeted innocent citizens for engaging in political activity. As hard as it is to believe, this scenario could happen to any law abiding citizen in Wisconsin under our current John Doe statutes, which were designed to be a tool to solve crimes that might otherwise go unsolved.
The John Doe process has been distorted by some politically motivated prosecutors to the point that our own citizens, charged with no crime, are subjected to predawn raids of their homes and their personal property confiscated without being told the reason and admonished that if they speak of it to anyone, they will be subjected to prosecution. Worse yet, these same people bound by this gag order, have been exposed as possible targets by endless leaks from these prosecutors. These citizens are unable to speak and defend themselves and unaware of what the focus of the investigation even is. Put yourselves in their position, while remembering that under our system of justice these citizens are entitled to the presumption of innocence.
I’ve learned a lot about Wisconsin’s John Doe laws over the past several years. I’ve learned that they do not protect the free speech rights of witnesses and targets of a proceeding. I’ve also learned that the presiding judge is allowed unlimited discretionary powers allowing the investigations to be open-ended and used to investigate any crime. It’s no wonder that Judge Frank Easterbrook of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals said recently that these laws are “screamingly unconstitutional.”
When Legislators are made aware that state law is unconstitutional, it’s our duty to act. And now that we fully understand the abhorrent ways that Wisconsin’s John Doe statues have been blatantly abused by a few politically motivated prosecutors, there’s no time to waste in doing our job to correct this wrong. Unlike some might lead you to believe, our job as legislators isn’t to make it easier for prosecutors to investigate people in secret, it’s to protect the rights of its citizens against these few abusive prosecutors.
Earlier this week, the state Assembly voted to advance Assembly Bill (AB) 68 – moving to correct many of the aforementioned faults. Thanks to the careful crafting of the bill’s author Representative Dave Craig, AB 68 effectively preserves the core of our John Doe laws, and strengthens the process with additional constitutional protections and increases transparency. Under this bill, John Doe laws in the hands of responsible prosecutors who respect constitutional rights will continue to be an important tool to solve horrific crimes.
The abuses of our John Doe laws that we’ve seen over the past few years have been so blatantly unconstitutional that it’s hard for me to believe that the approval of AB 68 was a partisan vote. Like every one of my legislative colleagues, I took an oath to protect the constitutional rights of my constituents, which is why I gladly cast my vote in support. And as much as I hate to admit it, every member of the Democrat party in the Assembly voted against these reforms that would protect their constituencies from unwarranted searches and abuse from their government. Perhaps they’ve forgotten that it’s every citizen’s constitutional right to be protected from unlawful search and seizure, a right to feel safe in your own home.
Every citizen in Wisconsin should know that under this bill, you will no longer be subject to early morning raids by armed police simply for engaging in a constitutional right of free speech, but you should also be aware that every member of the Democrat party refused to vote in favor of protecting the constitutional rights of Wisconsinites.