Wisconsin Bail Reform Amendment, Question 3 (April 1981)

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The Wisconsin Bail Reform Amendment was a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment on the April 7, 1981 ballot in Wisconsin, where it was approved.

This amendment modified Article I, Section 8 of the state constitution to permit the legislature to allow courts to deny, revoke, or set terms of bail. The most controversial part allows a judge to be able to jail someone for a period of 10 days for crimes involving 1st-degree murder, 1st-degree rape, and repeat felons. However, another part of the amendment restricts the conditional use of monetary bail. [1][2]

Election results

Question 3
Approveda Yes 505,092 73.15%

Official results via: The Wisconsin Blue Book 1981-1982

Text of measure

The language that appeared on the ballot:

"Shall section 8 of article I of the constitution be amended so that the legislature may permit courts to deny or revoke bail for certain accused persons; and so that courts may set conditions, including bail, for the release of accused persons to assure appearance in court, protect members of the community or prevent intimidation of witnesses?"[1]

Constitutional changes

[Article I] Section 8. (1) No person shall may be held to answer for a criminal offense without due process of law, and no person for the same offense shall may be put twice in jeopardy of punishment, nor shall may be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself or herself.
(2) All persons shall, before conviction, be bailable by sufficient sureties, except for capital offenses when the proof is evident or the presumption great; and the shall be eligible for release under reasonable conditions designed to assure their appearance in court, protect members of the community from serious bodily harm or prevent the intimidation of witnesses. Monetary condition of release may be imposed at or after the initial appearance only upon a finding that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the conditions are necessary to assure appearance in court. The legislature may authorize, by law, courts to revoke a person's release for a violation of a condition of release.
(3) The legislature may by law authorize, but may not require, circuit courts to deny release for a period not to exceed 10 days prior to the hearing required under this subsection to a person who is accused of committing a murder punishable by life imprisonment or a sexual assault punishable by a maximum imprisonment of 20 years, or who is accused of committing or attempting to commit a felony involving serious bodily harm to another or the threat of serious bodily harm to another and who has a previous conviction for committing or attempting to commit a felony involving serious bodily harm to another or the threat of serious bodily harm to· another. The legislature may authorize by law, but may not require, circuit courts to continue to deny release to those accused persons for an additional period not to exceed 60 days following the hearing required under this subsection, if there is a requirement that there be a finding by the court based on clear and convincing evidence presented at a hearing that the accused committed the felony and a requirement that there be a finding by the court that available conditions of release will not adequately protect members of the community from serious bodily harm or prevent intimidation of witnesses. Any law enacted under this subsection shall be specific, limited and reasonable. In determining the 10-day and 60-day periods, the court shall omit any period of time found by the court to result from a delay caused by the defendant or a continuance granted which was initiated by the defendant.
(4) The
privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended unless when, in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require requires it."[1]


Supporters of the amendment argued:

  • Liberal use of bail to restrict accused who did not have the financial means for bail is not legitimate.
  • The amendment does not make dramatic changes to the existing system.
  • The amendment gives room for the legislature and the courts to protect society and individual civil rights.[2]


Opposition varied:

  • Civil rights advocates argued the amendment may restrict basic constitutional rights and allows for the jailing of those who have not yet been convicted.
  • Attorneys argued the amendment may make it too easy for a person accused of a crime to stay out of jail before a trail and removed some of the discretion available to the judge in setting bail.
  • Others argued the question should have been split into two separate ballot questions.[2]

Path to the ballot

  • First Legislative Approval: SJR 9 & JR 76 (1980 Special Session)
  • Second Legislative Approval: SJR 5 & JR 8 (1981)[3]
  • It is believed the main case that sparked the legislation was a 1979 murder woman by a man released on bail for charges of sexual assault.

See also

Suggest a link

External links