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Lawmakers considering bill to protect public defenders

By: Erika Strebel, [email protected]//October 2, 2015//

Lawmakers considering bill to protect public defenders

By: Erika Strebel, [email protected]//October 2, 2015//

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Lawmakers are considering a proposal that would subject anyone who beats up or threatens a public defender to the same penalties as someone who does the same to a judge.

Under current law, anyone who beats up or threatens a judge can be found guilty of a Class H felony. The possible punishments include a maximum penalty of $10,000 and six years in prison.

The authors of Assembly Bill 347, Reps. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem, and Cody Horlacher, R-Mukwonago, said the proposal would merely give public defenders the same penalty protections. They testified Thursday at a public hearing before the Assembly Committee on Judiciary.

Kerkman said the bill was prompted by a public hearing on a different proposal, Assembly Bill 147, which would make law-enforcement officers and prosecutors subject to the same penalty protections as judges.

Kerkman conceded that threats or crimes against public defenders, judges, prosecutors and law enforcement are rare, but they nonetheless do happen. Kerkman said she thinks public defenders, being public servants,  deserve protection.

Assembly Bill 347, Horlacher said, would also cover private attorneys who are serving as public defenders on particular cases.

However, Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, said he was concerned that the bill could result in prosecutors unnecessarily filing charges in response to battery and threat allegations.  He asked if the authors would allow an exception to be made for threats and battery that occur when a suspect is being arrested or booked.


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