As election day approaches, Wisconsinites are constantly seeing political attack ads. The topic of cash bail has been coming up in a lot of these ads — particularly in the U.S. Senate race.
Republican incumbent Ron Johnson’s ads often draw attention to Democratic candidate Mandela Barnes’ stance on ending cash bail claiming it could lead to more crime. Barnes has defended his position on cash bail and says the ads distort his position on the issue.
But what is a cash bail and what does it actually mean? Brian P. Dimmer, a criminal defense attorney based in Racine, offers his understanding and clarification on the topic.
"The cash bail is something that comes up when somebody is arrested and charged with a crime [and] is typically determined at one of the first times you show up to court," Dimmer says. "It is an amount of money that a person pays to remain in the community instead of jail while their case is resolved. It's designed to essentially be an assurance that a person is going to return to court."
Ultimately, the judge presiding over the case decides whether to enforce cash bail and the bail amount. Dimmer explains that the court's objective is to ensure that the defendant returns for trial or if they are a plausible flight risk or immediate danger to the community.
Using cash bail is one method that the legal system determines if a defendant must wait in jail for their trial or wait at home. Another method the court can use is a signature bond, where a judge allows a defendant to be released without paying any money as long as they abide by a set of rules until their trial.
According to Dimmer, two types of people who are hurt the most by cash bail are people who cannot afford to pay the bail amount and people who are wrongfully accused.
"I have watched plenty of people in court who've been in jail take a deal because they've decided 'what's one more conviction on my record? I just want to get out. I've got to get back to my job.' It does happen and what it really does is creates more [false] convictions," Dimmer says.
Cash bail can also create a strain on city resources because it can require the jail system to be larger due to more people being unable to be released through monetary payment.
Dimmer says that eliminating cash bail will not inevitably increase crime because the extent of a person's financial resources cannot predict their behavior nor be an indication of their decision-making.
"Really, [the cash bail out premise] is an illusion that if this person posts this amount of money, [then] our communities are going to be safer. We need to take out this notion that we can figure out who's safe and who's not safe in the community by how much money they can afford," Dimmer says.
As cash bail continues to be part of the elections conversations, stay up-to-date for the upcoming midterms with information on the candidates, their positions, voting processes and other pertinent information in our voter guide.
Mallory Cheng and Robert Larry (Courtesy of WUWM