Evers signs bill defining 'serious harm' and 'violent crime' for bail amendment

Wisconsin voters approved a constitutional amendment in the April 4 election, which together with a bill signed by Gov. Tony Evers will let judges consider more factors when setting bail.

Associated Press

April 6, 2023

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Tony Evers stands and speaks into two microphones, with a whiteboard on the wall behind him.

Gov. Tony Evers speaks at a budget listening session convened by his office in Green Bay on Dec. 20, 2022. On April 5, 2023, the governor signed a bill passed by the state Legislature that defines "serious harm" and "violent crime" for the purposes of a state constitutional amendment passed by voters a day earlier. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

AP News

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed a Republican-backed bill into law on April 5 that clarifies when a newly passed state constitutional amendment will make it harder for defendants to get out of jail on bail.

The constitutional amendment was passed into law in the statewide election a day earlier, when a pair of ballot questions on bail gained support from two-thirds of voters. The amendment allows judges to consider past convictions for violent crimes when setting bail for someone accused of a violent crime. It also lets judges set the conditions of release to protect the public from serious harm.

The bill Evers signed defines serious harm and violent crime for use with the amendment. Under the broad definition of serious harm, judges will be able to set stricter release conditions for any defendant they believe could physically or emotionally hurt someone or inflict damages of more than $2,500 while on release.

The bill also designates more than 100 offenses as violent crimes, meaning someone convicted of anything from homicide to watching a cockfight could face higher cash bail amounts if they are accused of another violent crime.

“Yesterday, the people of Wisconsin approved a companion constitutional amendment to change our state’s bail policies, and while I’m signing this bill today consistent with the will of the people, I also want to be clear that these changes alone will not solve the challenges facing our justice system,” Evers said.

The governor called on the Republican-controlled Legislature to enact other criminal justice overhauls and use the state’s record budget surplus to invest in public safety.

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