Sentencing Disparity In WI Felony Cases Called “Roulette Wheel”


Sentences handed down by Wisconsin judges vary drastically in similar cases, reports the Gannett Wisconsin Media Investigative Team. The perceived roster of harsh and soft judges has long been whispered between attorneys and frequent-flier defendants. What one judge condemns with an iron fist, another seems to handle with kid gloves. Justice in Wisconsin is less a scale than a roulette wheel. Landing in one courtroom could lead to probation, another to a decade behind bars. One brings a victim satisfaction and security, another frustration and fear. The idea that “similarly situated” persons should be treated similarly is a tenet of the U.S. system, but Wisconsin falls far short of that standard, the study found.

Reporters examined 12 of the most frequent felony offenses from 2005 to 2014, chosen for their relative lack of extenuating circumstances with input from dozens of attorneys, judges and law professors. The inequalities were striking across all 12 offenses. Get a speeding ticket, and the fine will be identical. Get convicted of a felony, and your penalty is at the whim of the sentencing judge. A conviction for second-plus offense marijuana possession meant an average of 10 months behind bars from Milwaukee County Judge William Brash, but six other judges around the state averaged less than a month for that crime. Five- and six-time drunken drivers before Judge Dee Dyer in Outagamie County were sent away for an average of 25 months in prison, but sentences in another courtroom averaged less than 10 months.

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