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Criminal code overhaul on hold until next legislative session – UPDATE

By: Eric Heisig//February 21, 2014//

Criminal code overhaul on hold until next legislative session – UPDATE

By: Eric Heisig//February 21, 2014//

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A bill that would rewrite Wisconsin’s criminal code won’t be passed during the current legislative session, though its sponsor said he will reintroduce it next year.

Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, said that Assembly Bill 383 – which was introduced in September and is more than 350 pages – is “on pause” because there isn’t enough time left in the session to parse through the entire bill and address concerns raised by interested parties.

“Not that I wanted to slow the bill down,” Ott said, “but I felt that there was no way to get it passed in time.”

He said he plans to reintroduce it in February 2015.

“At that point, if there were issues that need to be addressed, we’d have the whole next year to work on it,” Ott said. “It’s just a matter of wanting to do it right.”

He said his office and the Wisconsin Judicial Council, which worked on the bill for more than 20 years, will use the time between sessions to work with the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and victims’ rights groups that already have weighed in and expressed concerns.

The DA’s association supports part of the bill, such as clarifying discovery proceedings for defense attorneys, President Adam Gerol said. However, it opposed the bill as a whole because parts of it are out of date, he said.

“We felt that to rewrite it to meet the things we thought were good would be such a task that it would be better to [start over],” Gerol said.

A provision that would replace preliminary hearings with a pretrial motion to dismiss proceeding has the “potential to be very burdensome,” he said.

The Attorney General’s Office also opposes the bill as is, stating in an Oct. 11 memo that the current code generally is “well understood by practitioners and enables the fair, just and speedy resolution of criminal cases.”

“Without a sound rationale that would remedy established shortcomings in the current state of the law,” the memo reads, “any change may be superfluous and lead to unintended consequences. In our view, without a foundational case for change, there should be no change.”

The bill’s supporters say the goal is to clean up the language and organization of the state’s criminal law code, as well as codify practices that long have been justified by legal precedence.

Other proposed changes include allowing a misdemeanor citation to be used as a criminal complaint and specifying that a jury verdict must be unanimous.

The bill received two public hearings this past fall in front of the Assembly and Senate judiciary committees, led by Ott and state Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, respectively.

The criminal code last was updated in 1969.


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