He also opposes changes GOP lawmakers made to DNA legislation
Madison — Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen joined other law enforcement officials Monday in calling on Gov. Scott Walker to veto a budget provision that would allow those accused of crimes to post bail through commercial bondsmen and let bounty hunters track down those who don’t show up for court.
“I’m opposed to it, always have been,” Van Hollen said in an interview. “If it’s not broken, why are we passing legislation to fix it?”
Van Hollen — like Walker, a Republican — said he also opposes changes GOP lawmakers made to a plan to take DNA from those accused of felonies when they are arrested, rather than when they are convicted.
With the legislators’ changes, DNA could be taken at arrest but couldn’t be analyzed in most cases until a judge found there was probable cause to suspect the defendants committed crimes. That would create difficulties for law enforcement officials as they try to determine when samples can be analyzed, Van Hollen said.
Van Hollen talked to Walker about the provision Monday but said he did not know what the governor would do. Walker has broad powers to veto provisions of the budget and has said he will issue any vetoes by Sunday.
A spokesman for Walker declined to say how the governor would act on those issues.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said he had not heard from Van Hollen about his concerns during the budget process.
“Considering the fact that it’s a Monday, it sounds like he’s attempting to play Monday morning quarterback,” Vos said of Van Hollen. “To now engage only at the end is disappointing.”
Until Monday, Van Hollen had repeatedly refrained from publicly saying whether he supported the bail bond proposal, which the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee tucked into the budget earlier this month.
Judges, clerks of courts, sheriffs and others in the legal community have nearly universally opposed the plan. A few, such as Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., have spoken in favor of commercial bail bonds.
For more than three decades, defendants in Wisconsin have had to post their full bail to get out of jail while awaiting trial. Under the budget provision, they could pay a fee of up to 10% of their bail amount to a company that would promise to pay counties the full amount if defendants didn’t show up for court.
The bail bondsmen would have arrest powers to track down those who abscond.
The system would be in effect in five counties — Dane, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Racine and Waukesha. After five years, the system would automatically expand statewide.
Current system backed
Van Hollen said the current system works well and he is concerned about letting offenders get out of jail more easily by having them post one-tenth as much bail as they do now. What’s more, the courts and victims could lose out on millions of dollars a year, he said.
Now, when defendants meet the terms of their bail but are convicted, their bail money first goes to pay court costs and victim restitution. That totaled $9.5 million in 2012, according to court records.
“It’s money in the hand that doesn’t have to be collected,” Van Hollen said.
Under a commercial bail bond system, counties would have to seek money from those who are found guilty to pay court costs and restitution. That can be time consuming and yield unsatisfactory results, according to opponents of commercial bail bond.
Supporters of the budget provision say they believe more defendants will show up for court, making the court system more efficient. They note the purpose of bail is to ensure people do that, not to set aside money to run the courts.
Two years ago, lawmakers put a similar bail bonds provision in the state budget. Walker vetoed the measure then, writing that he agreed with the idea but felt there had not been “sufficient time to properly evaluate the proposal and to plan for appropriate regulation of this industry.”
As for the DNA-collection issue, Van Hollen and Walker had put together a plan that would allow law enforcement to take DNA from felony suspects when they are arrested, rather than when they are convicted, as now occurs.
Some legislators opposed the idea of collecting DNA from those who haven’t been found guilty of a crime, let alone charged. They changed the proposal to say the DNA samples could not be forwarded to the state Department of Justice or analyzed unless: the arrest was made with a warrant; a judge had determined there was probable cause to believe the suspect had committed a felony; or the defendant had waived or failed to show up for the initial appearance or preliminary examination.
Samples that had not been forwarded to DOJ within a year would have to be destroyed. Vos said the changes added due process protections that are in the mainstream.
Van Hollen said he and his staff had spent a long time on the plan, only to see legislators modify it during an overnight committee meeting. The result “left some holes in the program,” he said.
He said the adjustments by lawmakers had created potential problems for police, who would have to determine when each DNA sample could be sent to the state for analysis.
“It adds to the confusion,” Van Hollen said. “It certainly doesn’t add to the protections.”
Lawmakers made their changes less than 48 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Maryland’s system of taking DNA at arrest passed constitutional muster. Van Hollen said he was confident his proposal also was constitutional.