Two panels of lawmakers heard both praise and criticism Thursday of a 23-year-old attempt at updating and restructuring Wisconsin’s code governing criminal procedures.
Members of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety and the Assembly Committee on Judiciary listened to hours of testimony at a joint public hearing on the proposal in the state Capitol.
Much of the praise for Senate Bill 82 was in fact for the work performed by the state’s Judicial Council. The 21-member body, which recommends changes to the policies governing state courts, came in for special notice simply for taking on such a daunting task.
Wisconsin’s criminal-procedure statutes have not been rewritten since 1969. In 2014, proposed changes that were similar to those called for by Senate Bill 82 received two hearings but eventually stalled because of disagreement over some of their provisions.
Objections were raised in particular to a proposal that would have eliminated pretrial hearings. That provision has been removed from the latest version of the bill.
David Schultz, a member of the Judicial Council and University of Wisconsin law professor, and April Southwick, staff attorney for the council, testified in favor of the bill. Schultz said the current bill, despite differing from the previous proposal, is worthy of the Legislature’s consideration.
“Many of the things that I think are still worth doing are included in the bill,” Schultz said. “In my judgment, once you get through the reorganization … it still brings substantial improvements to the system.”
However, both lawmakers and those testifying against the bill expressed criticism.
Some had procedural concerns. State Sen. Fred Risser, D- Madison, said he is worried that the Legislature will put a great deal of work into amending the bill only to see it vetoed by Gov. Scott Walker.
State Rep. David Heaton, R-Wausau, asked if it would be easier to break the proposed changes up into smaller bits and consider each separately from the others. But Southwick and state Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, said that the Legislative Council had argued against taking such a step, saying it might lead to cross-referencing errors.
Some of those who testified Thursday had concerns about the bill’s call for making sweeping changes rather than a mere codification of case law. One of them was Dodge County District Attorney Kurt Klomberg, who spoke against the proposal on the behalf of the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association.
Klomberg noted that the bill, contrary to case law, does not mention whether motions to suppress are an acceptable remedy of improper no-knock searches. He also pointed to a bill provision requiring the preservation of biological materials that were gathered as evidence.
The legislation, he complained, neither specifies preservation methods nor states how long the materials should be kept around. That provision, he said, could end in being unnecessarily expensive to taxpayers.
“Evidence storage is burgeoning,” Klomberg said. “We’re going to have to build warehouses.”
The district attorney’s association, he said, intends to work with the Judicial Council and the Legislature on amendments to the bill.
“We’re not coming to this as uninformed prosecutors who are scared of the big bill,” Klomberg said. “We feel that there are certain concerns that need to be addressed before the process is completed.” Follow @erikastrebel