On April 4, 2023, voters across the State will consider whether a small provision in our State’s Constitution should be changed. Voters likely won’t be aware, though, of the story behind this proposed change. This story began exactly six years earlier, to the day, in Delafield, Wisconsin, where a little girl shared a disclosure with her parents that changed their family’s life.
To the day, six years earlier, the story began with a brave five-year-old girl at a Culver’s restaurant dinner with her parents and siblings. During dinner, that little girl suddenly blurted out that their grandfather had been touching her in strange ways. She reported that this touching occurred many times, in a variety of ways, over the years. In the ensuing investigation, these parents discovered that their daughter’s abuse wasn’t isolated. They learned that there were many other victims across two generations of family members, spanning over 40 years of abuse. The abuse also involved cover-ups and efforts to stifle prior disclosures. He admitted to much of it, and was ultimately sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The aftermath of this tragic Delafield case lives on in this bail amendment. Following the grandfather’s arrest and initial appearance, he posted a relatively modest cash bail amount. To the horror of this local community and his victims, he returned to the same neighborhood where he raised those same victimized family members.
Following this defendant’s release on bail, State Representative Cindi Duchow reached out to me personally to inquire how and why his bail was so modest. I had to inform her that legally, a judge was prohibited (pursuant to our State Constitution) from considering the dangerousness of this particular defendant. Pursuant to our Constitution, the judge could only consider, when setting that cash bail amount, how likely this defendant was to return to court. His lifelong status and strong ties to the community explained the modest bail amount. The heinousness of his conduct played no part his bail analysis.
For the past six years, Representative Duchow has worked tirelessly to fix that broken practice. Years ago, she paired up with State Senator Wanggaard. Together, they’ve championed common-sense bail reform. The first step is to amend our State Constitution.
Now, literally six years to the day that this local couple first learned of their daughter’s abuse, their amendment goes to Wisconsin voters. Representative Duchow and Senator Wanggaard’s constitutional amendment simply allows judges to consider a defendant’s dangerousness (and other common-sense factors) when considering what is an appropriate amount of cash bail. The story behind this constitutional amendment illustrates not only this particular family’s pain, but also the pain of countless other families over the past 40 years (since this bail provision was passed).
Please remember the local, tragic story behind this state constitutional amendment. It all started with a brave five-year-old and two local parents. Out of their pain, we hope to repair the broken bail system in Wisconsin