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Despite Media Blackout, Wisconsin GOP Lawmakers Are Still Working To Prevent Another Waukesha Christmas Massacre

Waukesha vigil
Image CreditKylee Zempel / The Federalist

As the people of Waukesha grieve the six people they lost and the more than 60 who were injured when a violent criminal tore through their annual Christmas parade in an SUV, Wisconsinites and the rest of the country — save for the corporate media that finds nothing to see here — are wondering, “How could this happen?”

A handful of state lawmakers are wondering, “How can we prevent this from happening again?”

“The senseless act of evil in Waukesha was preventable,” Sen. Dale Kooyenga, who represents most of Waukesha County and other parts of the Milwaukee suburbs, told The Federalist. “Far too often in southeast Wisconsin people have been released on low bail and lenient sentences, only to commit more crimes and hurt more people.”

Wisconsin bail protocols are convoluted. While a cursory glance might make it seem as though judges can consider an alleged offender’s record and community safety in setting a bail amount, the Wisconsin Constitution prohibits that. Although people charged with crimes are guaranteed bail, the only thing a judge can really consider when setting the bail amount is the likelihood of the accused returning to trial. The severity of the crime and the likelihood of reoffense cannot be considered.

In determining pre-trial release, meaning non-monetary release before the accused is tried and convicted, a court can make “reasonable conditions designed to assure their appearance in court, protect members of the community from serious bodily harm or prevent the intimidation of witnesses.”

Monetary conditions of release, or bail, are different. Under Article 1, Section 8 of the Wisconsin Constitution, “Monetary conditions of release may be imposed at or after the initial appearance only upon a finding that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the conditions are necessary to assure appearance in court” (emphasis added). State Statue 696.01 reiterates this. That means a court cannot consider community safety or the criminal record of the accused.

State Sen. Van Wanggaard’s chief of staff Scott Kelly told The Federalist it’s common in Milwaukee County for judges to set a low bail of $500, for instance, when an offender has strong ties to the community such as family, friends, or a home, and all the judge can consider is his likelihood of showing up at trial.

“Well, what happens is you get situations like what happened with Waukesha,” Kelly said, referring to Darrell E. Brooks, the alleged driver of the SUV who is also a registered sex offender and whose prior criminal charges include recklessly endangering safety while using a dangerous weapon, illegal possession of a firearm, drug possession, domestic abuse, disorderly conduct, bail jumping, battery, and resisting or obstructing an officer.

Brooks was released on a $1,000 bond for a handful of charges including multiple felonies in November before the Christmas parade massacre, after he allegedly ran over a woman who claimed to be the mother of his child on Nov. 2.

The progressive Milwaukee district attorney now calls this bail amount “inappropriately low,” but that hasn’t always been his position. In fact, DA John Chisholm knew his so-called criminal justice “reforms” such as low cash bail would end up killing someone — but he forged ahead with them anyway.

“Is there going to be an individual I divert, or I put into [a] treatment program, who’s going to go out and kill somebody?” Chisholm flippantly told to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2007. “You bet. Guaranteed. It’s guaranteed to happen. It does not invalidate the overall approach.”

This overall approach has been a disaster, and paired with Democrat Gov. Tony Evers vetoing multiple bills that could have kept the alleged Waukesha killer behind bars, the left’s approach to crime has proved deadly. Some Republican lawmakers in the state are taking action.

“It is outrageous to me that convicted felons are allowed to terrorize our communities time and time again with little more than probation or a slap on the hand,” state Sen. Julian Bradley told The Federalist. “I’m already looking into what legislation we should pass. In fact, I was already looking at restricting signature bond before this weekend.”

Wanggaard, who chairs the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, with Republican Rep. Cindi Duchow is introducing an amendment to the state Constitution that would allow courts to consider additional factors when setting bail, not just the likelihood of the accused to show up at trial. If the amendment passes, it would allow courts to consider the seriousness of the charged offense, the accused’s prior criminal record and history of violence, and the safety of the community, in addition to considering the probability of the accused returning for trial and preventing the intimidation of witnesses.

Furthermore, it broadens the language, so rather than allowing courts to consider how to protect members of the community only from “serious bodily harm,” the proposed amendment would allow the consideration of all “serious harm.”

“The term ‘serious bodily harm’ refers to ‘bodily injury which causes or contributes to the death of a human being or which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes serious permanent disfigurement, or which causes a permanent or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ or other serious bodily injury,’” Wanggaard wrote in a co-sponsorship memorandum to his fellow legislators. “As applied, this has resulted in excluding crimes such as molestation of a child or repeat offenders for drunk driving.”

An amendment like this could have prevented the tragedy in Waukesha.

It was originally proposed four years ago, but it didn’t pass, in part because it was introduced too late in the session and some members didn’t recognize the severity of the subject. However, Wanggaard’s office is confident this redrafting will be more successful due to increased crime in Milwaukee and Madison, increased low-cash bail, and rising crime around the country due to left-wing prosecutors, such as in California and New York.

“It changes the dynamic,” Kelly said. “The timing is right.”

But even the amendment won’t ensure justice. Kelly says the DA can still let people off the hook as an elected official.

“If there’s a DA who wants to let people out of jail — like John Chisholm apparently does — you know, we can’t stop that. He’s elected, and that’s his prerogative I guess,” Kelly said. “It’s been a problem in Milwaukee for years.”

The amendment is a good first step, but Wisconsinites must also elect good district attorneys.

“The Waukesha tragedy is a terrible reminder that it’s long past time for prosecutors to take this problem seriously or resign,” Kooyenga said.

We simply can’t afford to risk another Christmas massacre enabled by prosecutors who flout law and order to achieve an impossible progressive fantasy.