Could harsher bail policies have avoided the tragedy at a parade in Wisconsin?

November 26 — It’s been uncovered that the man who drove his SUV through a Christmas parade in Wisconsin on Sunday had been released on $1,000 bail just days before the incident.

The death count is now up to six — an 8-year-old boy has passed away from his injuries in the hospital.

The District Attorney in Waukesha County, Wisconsin, has been in office since 2007 and he’s very openly progressive. He’s been a longtime advocate for bail reforms. He thinks the idea of bail is somewhat of a punishment for low income people.

Attorney Clint Barkdoll, Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen discussed the DA recently during the Big Talk on First News (7:11am live weekdays).

Barkdoll said, “It’s one of those things that sounds great in theory, but here you’ve got a case where this guy that’s been arrested for plowing the car into those people in the parade, he was released on bail just days before this incident of $1,000 and when you look at the crime, he tried to run over his estranged wife with a vehicle, had an extensive criminal history and the judge lets him out on $1,000 bail. Now we should say, bail is set by the judge, but there’s a lot of weight put on the recommendation of the district attorney. So I think this DA is going to pay a big political price. If he runs again. I don’t know how long he has left on his term, but this is clear example of where these bail reforms, you can have a case that really slips through the cracks with tragic outcomes.”

Jansen said, “I understand some of the reform they’ve had there what it basically says the judge only has the discretion of are they going to show up again? That’s ridiculous. Now they’re saying we should add back judicial discretion. Wasn’t there always judicial discretion before that? The idea that we’re going to blanket apply some standard that doesn’t take context of anything into account. Again, great idealistic idea about oh we don’t want poor people to be harmed more than others without taking anything else into account, the practical results of that is he said, going to get people killed. Admitted it himself.”

This exact reform program has been adopted in Philadelphia and there are more and more examples of situations where someone is released on their own recognizance and within hours, they are out committing crimes again.

Barkdoll said, “If there’s any silver lining to this, hopefully it pulls back some of these reform efforts because had this guy been incarcerated, had they set a higher bail amount and he couldn’t have been released, this tragedy very well could have been avoided.”

Jansen pointed out, “And Philadelphia now has the highest murder rate per capita among the country’s ten largest cities. That is what these reforms have gotten for you.”

Ryan asked, “Is it a wise move for the district attorney here in Franklin County just to park this for a couple of seconds and just leave it alone or should he come out going you know what? I recognize the tragedy out there and this is my stand on bail or this is my stand when it comes to crime in this area. Is this something he should get out in front of?”

Barkdoll said, “Here locally we certainly don’t have reforms at this level. Bail is very much established here by the local magistrate courts, to some extent the regular common pleas court will also get involved in bail issues if there’s a request for modification. They certainly take into account the position of the district attorney and the defense attorney for that matter, but the bail system, the historic bail system as we know it very much is still alive and well in central Pennsylvania. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if you see our local DA or other local district attorneys come out to confirm that they’re still on board with the process that we’re using.”

Ryan added, “I know it’s $5 million that this guy has bail set at. Why would you set bail at all? Given his record? Given what just happened? Given the wake of death behind him. I don’t care if it’s $5 million, I don’t care if it’s $50 million. Sit your ass in jail and stay there.”

Some states require bail to be available even in the most serious crimes.

Barkdoll said, “I don’t know if that’s what’s happening here in Wisconsin. Obviously this guy’s not going to make a $5 million bail, but could he find a bail bondsman that posts that. Typically a bondsman is going to charge a fee of maybe 5% to post the bail. Could this guy be in a position to do that? I would sure hope not and if something like that happened, I think you would see emergency motions filed to raise it even more, do something to keep him detained.”

Ryan pointed out, “Well it was our own vice president, wasn’t it, that made some donations to funds to get some people released from jail. Was it the looters? Oh yeah.”

Jansen added, “In fact called for the rest of the country to donate money to do that.”

Ryan continued, “So we’re going to smash and we’re going to grab and we’re going to burn cities down to the ground and somebody with a brain bandwidth of Kamala Harris who after a perfectly good business owner has had his business life taken away then she wants to fund help for the very people that are burning stuff down.”

Barkdoll said, “This crowd funding on bail is actually a big legal issue right now. In today’s world of the Internet, go fund me, crowd funding, you’re seeing this. In cases across the spectrum where someone gains the notoriety and they can go out and ask people to make $25 and $50 donations and suddenly they’ve raised millions of dollars to post bail, courts are now looking at whether that is a policy that should be eliminated as well.”