Appearing under the subchapter of Wisconsin law relating to interference with law enforcement, the offense of bail jumping is clearly defined under Wisconsin State Statute 946.49:
946.49 Bail jumping.
(1) Whoever, having been released from custody under ch. 969, intentionally fails to comply with the terms of his or her bond is:
(a) If the offense with which the person is charged is a misdemeanor, guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
(b) If the offense with which the person is charged is a felony, guilty of a Class H felony.
Importantly, a bail jumping charge can make something that is not a crime, such as missing a drug test or simply drinking alcohol (even if you are an addict or alcoholic), or a minor charge like disorderly conduct, transform into a felony carrying a penalty of up to six years in prison.
The cost to taxpayers for this prosecutorial sleight-of-hand is enormous. The State Public Defender's Office has indicated it could have saved about $770,000 in 2016 if the 8,147 felony bail jumping cases it handled were charged as misdemeanors, not as felonies. Gov. Scott Walker did not include the idea in his 2017-19 budget proposal.
Now a new article has appeared displaying new prosecutorial chicanery when it comes to bail jumping charges. In a Wisconsin Law Review article entitled, “THE USE OF WISCONSIN’S BAIL JUMPING STATUTE: A LEGAL AND QUANTITATIVE ANALYSIS” Amy Johnson explains that:
Analysis of the data from the Wisconsin Consolidated Court Automation Programs reveals that bail jumping charges have increased significantly over time. The data also suggests that an underlying purpose for filing bail jumping charges may be to create leverage against defendants to induce them to plead to their original charge rather than to punish them for violating their bond conditions. While not conclusive as to causation, the correlation between bail jumping charge dismissals and pleas to other charges cannot be ignored. The data also reveals that the treatment of bail jumping varies greatly county to county suggesting that a defendant’s geographic location within the state can result in significantly different outcomes.
As State Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) has indicated, “If you’re really serious about reducing the prison population and reform and taking caseloads off DAs, and public defenders and the courts, you have to attack and reform various ways the system is creating its own problem.”