For Immediate Release
March 19, 2012
Contact: Rep. André Jacque (920) 819-8066
Major Criminal Justice System Reform Set to Become Law
Jacque/Grothman legislation shields crime victims, reduces court costs
Madison, WI – Senate Bill 399, authored by State Representative André Jacque (R-Bellevue) and State Senator Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend), cleared its final hurdle before moving to Gov. Walker for enactment after passing the State Assembly last Friday evening on a broad bi-partisan 63-19 vote. The bill adopts in Wisconsin the evidentiary standard of allowing hearsay for criminal case preliminary hearings, a procedure already long since followed in federal cases and Wisconsin’s neighboring states of Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. Wisconsin’s Judicial Council has repeatedly requested such legislative action for decades now, and renewed their request in October of last year.
“This just makes sense for the entire criminal justice system,” said Jacque, adding, “By making this simple but essential change, prosecutors will be able to see that justice is served in many cases they are currently unable to adequately handle, while giving relief to taxpayers and added protection to crime victims and witnesses hounded by defense attorneys on abusive fishing expeditions without a jury present.”
Shortly after the vote was taken, Ozaukee County District Attorney (President of the Wisconsin District Attorneys’ Association) stated, “Today may be the greatest day for Wisconsin Crime Victims since our Legislature created the Victim Rights provisions of our Wisconsin Statutes. Anyone who has witnessed first hand the effects these hearings can have on victims of crimes understands how important this law change is. With the passage of Senate Bill 399, crime victims will no longer, for the sake of a mere procedural step, have to suffer the trauma of appearing in court only days or weeks after an assaultive event, all for the sake of a hearing which is unrelated to the guilt or innocence of the defendant or a search for the truth. Wisconsin now, by passing essentially the same legislation created in the federal system 40 years ago, joins three of our four neighboring states in allowing hearsay for a probable cause finding. Those of us in law enforcement also know that this law will also have a profound affect on criminal justice system entities throughout the state, allowing them to focus resources on those things which truly keep the public safe. This is an incredible day for the Wisconsin criminal justice system.”
One of the critical components of the legislation is its assistance in avoiding the unnecessary re-victimization of victims by forcing them to publicly relive traumatic, physically and psychologically scarring events before they have had time to recover. It is also expected to have a tremendous impact on reducing law enforcement costs and court expenses, with an anticipated $3 Million in unnecessary overtime savings (in many cases there has been an up to 5 hour minimum call-in for law enforcement) and the time equivalent of dozens of 18 DA and 14 judge positions statewide, getting law enforcement officers back on the street and increasing the efficiency of court proceedings. In certain situations, such as narcotics cases, multiple officers had to be prepared to testify for proceedings that are all very frequently cancelled at the last minute.
The impetus for Rep. Jacque’s involvement with this issue originated a few months ago while he was talking with Brown County Assistant District Attorney Beau Liegeois, who shared:
Other than jury trials, the preliminary hearing is the single most time consuming court appearance for a prosecutor. By modifying the preliminary hearing, a substantial amount of the prosecutor’s time can be saved. This time can be used to prepare for jury trials and review a backlog of criminal cases that gets larger every day. Each preliminary hearing is like a mini-trial that requires preparation time for the prosecutor and staff. The prosecutor will make an initial offer to the defense attorney, and frequently the defendant will waive their right to a preliminary hearing based on the prosecutor’s offer. But the case still must be called by the court and the waiver put on the record. Several weeks ago, I had six preliminary hearings on my schedule, all at 9:30am. In one case, the defense attorney informed me that the defendant planned to waive the preliminary hearing, so I was able to cancel witnesses on that one case. That left me with five more preliminary hearings. I spent several hours the day before and the morning of the hearings preparing for five mini-trials. When I got to court that morning, the remaining five defendants all waived their preliminary hearings based on the prosecutor’s offer. So after preparing for five mini-trials, none of the cases actually had their preliminary hearing. I used my time preparing the cases, the police officers had to be paid to show up for court, the citizen witnesses had to come to court, it consumed our Victim/Witness Program resources, and we had to pay our process server to serve the subpoenas on the citizen witnesses. This is not an isolated morning of preliminary hearings in Brown County. This is the typical morning. We have preliminary hearings at 9:30 and 10:30am every morning, and they consume the entire morning of two prosecutors in our office every day.
Having officers unnecessarily tied up in court has a particularly detrimental effect on small village police departments, such as Denmark, Wrightstown and Mishicot within the 2nd State Assembly District.
Jacque also offered thanks for the assistance of District Attorney Andrew Naze (D- Kewaunee County) and Green Bay Chief of Police Jim Arts, who provided vital testimony to legislators during the committee process on the many benefits that would be achieved by enactment of SB 399.
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