Rep. Steineke Floor Remarks on John Doe (Assembly Bill 68)

Over the past several years, we’ve learned a lot about Wisconsin’s John Doe laws. We’ve learned that it does not protect the free speech rights of witnesses and targets of a proceeding. We’ve learned that the presiding judge is allowed unlimited discretionary powers. We’ve learned that John Doe investigations can be open-ended and used to investigate any crime. And we’ve learned that Judge Frank Easterbrook of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals believes a “gag order” on witnesses is “screamingly unconstitutional.”

Now that we fully understand the ways that Wisconsin’s John Doe statues have been blatantly abused and carried out in a manner completely contrary to original intent, it’s time to act.  The Legislature’s job is not to make it easier for prosecutors to investigate people in secret; it’s to protect the rights of its citizens against abusive prosecutors.

It's unconscionable to think that this process has been perverted to the point that our own citizens, charged with no crime, convicted of nothing, have been subjected to predawn raids of their homes without being told the reason, have had personal property confiscated, and then admonished that if they speak of it to anyone in anyway, they will be subjected to prosecution. To make matters worse these same people that are bound by this gag order, are then exposed as possible targets by endless leaks by the prosecutors. Unable to speak, unable to defend themselves, unsure of what the focus of the investigation is. Put yourselves in their position. Remember, under our system of justice these citizens are entitled to the presumption of innocence, but this current system treats them as anything but.

I commend the bills authors for carefully and thoughtfully writing the bill in a way that preserves our John Doe laws, strengthens the process with additional constitutional protections, and increases transparency.

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 this is even a partisan issue. All of us on this floor have sworn an oath to protect the constitutional rights of our constituencies, which is why I am gladly casting my vote in support of AB 68.