Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. December 12, 2021.
Editorial: A just outcome for Wisconsin
Last week’s final steps to enact a law regarding the state’s processing of sexual assault kits was the right move for Wisconsin in both the legal and moral senses of the word. It is partial fulfillment of one of humanity’s oldest legal aphorisms: Justice, justice shall you pursue.
There was never any real disagreement over the need for such a bill. It had broad support from both parties in Madison, as well as advocates and the agencies that assist victims of sexual violence. The breakdown was, predictably, political bickering. It stretched what should have been a quick process into a multi-year slog.
Sexual assault kits are essential for the successful apprehension of predators and the prosecution of those who would prey on others. By passing the law, Wisconsin has enacted formal policies for the processing and retention of the kits. The latter is more important than it may seem.
While DNA evidence has been commonplace in courtrooms for several decades, the scientific advances in that time now allow accurate testing of much smaller samples than they once required. Investigators who may have been hamstrung at one point can reopen and pursue cases successfully because of those advances. The result is justice for victims and a safer society for us all.
Far too many states have seen those bits of evidence languish, untested and occasionally forgotten. The delays mean missed opportunities, fading memories and a lesser chance of success when a case is eventually brought to trial. Wisconsin was not innocent of such lapses. The state found more than 6,000 untested kits about six years ago, including kits that had sat on shelves for a decade or more. Work in testing the kits wrapped up in 2019.
Wisconsin should not find itself in such a scandalous situation again. This legislation sets clear requirements for how law enforcement and crime labs must handle the kits. It’s straightforward and easy to understand. There aren’t any more excuses.
That was the point made by state Sen. Robert Cowles, a Republican. Cowles said the legislation was crafted to “systematically prevent a testing backlog of sexual assault kits from ever happening again.”
Attorney General Josh Kaul hailed the legislation’s enactment, saying in a statement that “Wisconsin will be safer” with the new law. And that potential extends beyond individual cases.
One of the most powerful tools a prosecutor has is the ability to establish a pattern of behavior on the part of a defendant. When jurors hear that a person accused of a crime has previously been accused of a similar offense, or convicted of one, it carries significant weight. Human nature encourages us to assume that someone who acts one way at one time will do so again later.
Sexual assault kits can help establish such patterns. While DNA evidence is not foolproof — not is it as absolute as one might think from police procedurals on television — it is strong evidence. It is something jurors often expect to be presented. Ensuring prosecutors have that tool is important.
It’s not just prosecutors who may benefit from the state making a concerted effort to ensure the kits are tested. The evidence generated from the kits can be exculpatory as well. While people often think of DNA evidence as pointing toward a suspect, it can also rule people who are erroneously accused out of the case. Our system of justice relies heavily on credibly convicting those who violate the law. It is in society’s best interests to ensure those who have not committed a crime are not behind bars, to say nothing of the wrongly-accused defendant’s interests.
It wouldn’t be accurate to say this law will solve all of the challenges faced when it comes to finding justice in sexual violence cases. There are far more factors involved than a single kit. But this removes what had been an unnecessary stumbling block for the courts. It will lead to justice in cases that would not otherwise have had such an outcome.
Should it have taken this long? No. And that failing by the Legislature should be noted. That fact does not erase the fact this long-delayed step has finally been taken, though. In a time when any significant accomplishment by the state’s political leaders is rare enough, we’ll take this as a reminder that legislators can, and should rededicate themselves to bettering Wisconsin.
Kenosha News. December 12, 2021.
Editorial: Ban open carry at demonstrations
As we get close to the end of 2021, Wisconsin is glad to put some of the mayhem of the past two years in the history books.
The Kenosha riots are fading into the past and the Kyle Rittenhouse trial has thankfully concluded.
But before we close those books, we might want to look ahead and see how we can change things to prevent or at least diminish the chances of a repeat of the circumstances that fueled the fires that burned a good portion of the city and led to two deaths.
Yes, there are many aspects to this ongoing debate — everything from police response as the violence escalated, the presence of self-styled militia on the city streets and the delayed response in calling in the National Guard to quell the disturbance.
Today we’ll focus one just one element of those sad days: Allowing open carry at public demonstrations and protest marches. Anyone who saw the news photos of armed vigilantes parading down the street, ostensibly to protect businesses — even though their “help” had been rejected by Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth — knew we were headed toward a train wreck.
The presence of long guns and openly carried sidearms at demonstrations can only inflame tensions and lead to violence. That’s a lesson we can take from Kenosha.
At the same time, if we do not want armed citizens at protests then the government needs to protect life and property. When protests turn into riots, looting and burning of buildings the government — law enforcement and the National Guard — must end it quickly and not let it fester. There is a tendency to set a perimeter around an area and just let the mayhem occur. That has to stop.
We would urge the state Legislature and Gov. Tony Evers to take a page from the state of Washington, which last spring banned the open carry of weapons within 250 feet of permitted public demonstrations and on the grounds of its state capitol.
We would expand such a ban to include impromptu protests as well, and the Washington law does that by allowing local government officials to designate a protest as a permitted event. Washington’s law also has an exemption for property owners or renters even if the demonstration is inside the 250-foot perimeter. The law does not ban lawful concealed carry by permitted individuals.
Washington became the ninth state, along with the District of Columbia, to enact such a ban.
We don’t kid ourselves that given the divisiveness of our country over disputes on everything from social justice issues, school shootings, abortion, gun control, mask mandates and police policies that the coming year won’t bring more protest marches and demonstrations.
That’s protected under our Constitutional rights to free speech and free assembly.
The vast majority of those demonstrations will be peaceful. A study by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project and Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund found there were more than 30,000 public demonstrations in the United States in the 18 months between January 2020 and June 2021.
“Of those, at least 560 demonstrations include the presence of an armed individual, other than law enforcement. While armed demonstrations represent a small proportion of the total number of events, the subset is significantly more likely to involve violence or destructive behavior,” the study said.
“Roughly one out of every six demonstrations where firearms were present included reports of violent or destructive activity. For demonstrations where no firearms were identified that figure is one out of 37. While armed demonstrations account for less than 2% of the total number of demonstrations in the United State, they account for 10% of all violent or destructive demonstrations,” the study said. “Armed demonstrations turn violent or destructive about 16% of the time, compared to 3% if the time for unarmed demonstrations.”
That data bolsters our call for a ban on open carry at protests, marches and peaceful demonstrations. It’s even more timely in this era where we have seen standoffs and conflicts between protesters and counter-protesters.
We don’t need a déjà vu of the killings in Kenosha. Protests and marches will surely come our way again, but they can be made safer and less incendiary by banning the open carry of weapons.
Racine Journal Times. December 14, 2021.
Editorial: State law should require use of lethality assessments
Before the dead were even buried, with families, survivors and the community still mourning, segments of the media, lawmakers and many in the public at large went in search of someone to blame.
Many wanted to know what went wrong in the case of Darrell Brooks, the man charged with driving an SUV through the Waukesha Christmas Parade on Nov. 21, killing six and injuring at least 60. The dead included senior citizens, a local businesswoman and a 6-year-old boy. The injured included children, a local priest and high school students in a marching band.
By all accounts, it was a horrific and heinous crime. It not only devastated a community, but shocked a state and nation.
The evidence against the accused indicates that Brooks had just left a domestic altercation when, for whatever reason, he drove into the parade at a clip fast enough to total out the front end of his vehicle as he smashed into parade participants who had their backs to the oncoming vehicle. It is only a miracle that more weren’t killed and injured.
Within hours of the incident, it was learned that Brooks at the time of the parade assault was out on bond after posting $1,000 bail on a felony charge stemming from an incident in which he reportedly ran over his girlfriend — with the same vehicle used in the parade attack. Many asked how that was possible and why the bail was so low?
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and his office were quick to own up to what Chisholm acknowledged was a mistake. An overworked and inexperienced assistant DA had recommended the low bond in the domestic violence case and a court commissioner approved it.
In the wake of the acknowledgement, some in the state Legislature have called for Gov. Tony Evers to dismiss Chisholm.
Should there be repercussions? Perhaps. No doubt the assistant DA has received some remedial training and the court commissioner who set the bail has been reassigned due to safety concerns.
As for Chisholm, no doubt he is aware of the sentiments of some that he should resign. That’s his call, of course. But a forced removal of office is up to voters, who have the option to petition for a recall or to wait and see if Chisholm decides to run for re-election.
For the immediate coming days and weeks, we suggest all angered by the incident allow time for the Waukesha community to mourn and to let the families of the deceased and injured navigate the holidays, a time that normally would be one of joy and love. But once everyone is back at work after the new year, let the legal system do its job and prosecute Brooks to the fullest extent possible.
By our American system of justice, he is technically innocent until proven guilty. But with the abundance of evidence in the parade attack, we hope his attorneys expedite the situation with a guilty plea and that the judicial system follows with an expedient sentencing.
Then it’s the Legislature that needs to get to work by introducing and adopting a law that requires prosecutors and court officials to consider lethality assessments when setting bail in domestic abuse cases.
According to Safe Futures, a Connecticut victim advocacy service, the Lethality Assessment Program is a partnership with law enforcement that uses assessment strategies piloted in the State of Maryland to better serve domestic violence victims. Trained police on the scene of a domestic violence call assess a victim’s risk for serious injury or death and can then immediately link those at greatest risk to Safe Futures for counseling and services.
The assessment includes a set of scored questions. In the case of Brooks, the victim in the Milwaukee County incident had provided answers to a Milwaukee police officer filling out a lethality assessment that clearly indicated Brooks remained a serious risk for the victim.
According to a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, use of the Lethality Assessment Program has spread across Wisconsin, but it is not universal. Its use is rare because it is not required to be considered under state law, Sara Krall, End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin’s homicide prevention program director, told reporter Ashley Luthern.
Wisconsin legislators need to change that. We suggest they follow the lead of their counterparts in Arizona, where since 2015 state law has required court officials to consider risk or lethality assessments when setting bail in domestic violence cases.
Will that stem every future tragedy resulting from domestic abuse? No, but having the assessment adopted into law will help to make sure judges and court commissioners use a tool to help keep the most violent and obsessive offenders in custody as long as possible until their cases can be adjudicated.