In April 2023, Wisconsin voters approved, and Governor Evers signed into law, a referendum that changed the Wisconsin bail laws in Section 969, as is summarized by this AP article. Previously, courts could set bail if they found that it was necessary to assure a defendant’s appearance in court. Now, the revised law allows courts to set bail for other considerations.
In general, the new law allows a court to set bail in a case where a defendant is accused of a violent crime, if the court finds there is a reasonable basis to believe that bail is necessary based on the totality of the circumstances. The court may take into account whether the defendant has a previous conviction for a violent crime, in addition to considerations previously provided for in the old version of the law. In practice, we think this means that in any case involving a violent offense, courts may be more likely to set cash bail than they previously would have.
In addition, the new law allows courts to deny release from custody any defendant accused of first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree sexual assault, or sexual assault of a child. Perhaps, the most significant change in the law allows for courts to deny release from custody any person accused of committing or attempting to commit a violent crime and the person has a previous conviction for committing or attempting to commit a violent crime. That is a massive change in the Wisconsin bail law.
In practice to date, we have seen District Attorney offices claiming that in violent offenses there is a “presumption of bail” in cases that allege violent offenses. Given that this law is new, we will continue to analyze it for how it is being put into practice and what it means for our clients.