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Wisconsin bill aims to strip the accused of rights

In an election year, bold legislation is often authored, in attempts to attract media coverage and voter attention. In a move which concerns civil rights advocates, an aggressive Republican bill has been introduced in the Wisconsin legislature which would erode certain criminal defense protections.

The measure would exempt victims from testifying against the accused until later stages of prosecution. Instead, victim testimony would be delivered by law enforcement, second hand. In essence, the bill would allow for hearsay evidence to be admitted during preliminary hearings.

During a preliminary hearing, judges determine whether the prosecution possesses a substantial enough case to try the accused. Eliminating crucial evidentiary protections at this stage of the criminal process leaves the accused unjustifiably vulnerable to abuses of the process and unchecked prosecutorial power.

According to the measure's chief Senatorial sponsor, the bill would change the system by allowing a lone investigator to testify about crime lab issues, law enforcement observations and the statements of victims. Currently, the observations of victims, law enforcement officers and crime lab experts are obtained first hand, with a chance for the defense to cross-examine each witness.

The measure would strip defense attorneys and their clients of the right to question the testimony of witnesses, whose observations may inspire the judge to allow the prosecution to move forward against the accused.

If passed, this legislation could be yet another hurdle faced by those accused of a crime. As the executive director of the Wisconsin chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union explains, it is "important for the integrity of the system to have this step and have this step be meaningful by limiting hearsay evidence."

Source: LaCrosse Tribune, "Wisconsin bill would let crime victims skip testifying," Todd Richmond, Feb. 13, 2012

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