STATE OF WISCONSIN
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
J.B. VAN HOLLEN
Raymond P. Taffora
Deputy Attorney General
114 East, State Capitol
P.O. Box 7857
Madison, WI 53707-7857
April 22, 2009 OAG-1-09
215 South Hamilton Street, #3000
Madison, WI 53703-3297
BodyStart In your letter dated November 18, 2008, you indicate that Dane County has recently established a revolving bail fund. You state that there has been no judicial action by any Dane County Circuit Court Judge or Judges directing or approving the use of such a fund.
Your letter indicates that the revolving bail fund is funded by the county. The fund is a line item in the budget of the Dane County Sheriff. Monies are lent by the Dane County Sheriff’s Office from the fund to persons who have been booked into the Dane County Jail. Funds are lent to persons who lack the financial resources with which to post bail in connection with certain offenses for which the Uniform Bail Schedule sets bail at $250 or less. Your letter suggests that the vast majority of these offenses are misdemeanors.
In order to be eligible to receive monies from the revolving bail fund, the person cannot be subject to any outside holds, warrants, or commitments; cannot have been arrested for domestic abuse of any kind; cannot have been booked into the jail for any municipal ordinance violation; cannot have failed to appear in court or have been subject to a bench warrant during the preceding five years; cannot have tested positive for any amount of alcohol; and cannot be incapacitated by any drug. The person must also possess valid identification, such as a current driver’s license. If the person meets these criteria, he or she must sign a promissory note payable to the county and must also execute an assignment of bail directing the clerk of court to return the amount loaned from the revolving bail fund to the county once the conditions of the indigent person’s bail are satisfied. At the time the funds are loaned, there has been no court appearance, no appearance before a judge or court commissioner, and no involvement by the prosecutor or by defense counsel. I have been unable to locate a Dane County Ordinance establishing a revolving bail fund. See http://countyofdane.com/unified/information/ordinances.aspx; http://danedocs.countyofdane.com/webdocs/pdf/ordinances/ord0y.pdf (last visited 3/31/2009).
QUESTION PRESENTED AND BRIEF ANSWER
You ask, in effect, whether a county or a county sheriff possesses statutory authority to use county funds to establish a revolving bail fund for the purpose of allowing persons to post bail for certain kinds of offenses for which they are booked into the county jail.
In my opinion, the answer is no.
PRINCIPAL STATUTORY PROVISIONS AND JUDICIAL ORDERS INVOLVED
I. STATUTORY AUTHORITY OF THE SHERIFF.
Wisconsin Stat. § 59.27 provides in part:
Sheriff; duties. The sheriff of a county shall do all of the following:
(1) Take the charge and custody of the jail maintained by the county and the persons in the jail, and keep the persons in the jail personally or by a deputy or jailer.
(2) Keep a true and exact register of all prisoners committed to any jail under the sheriff's charge, in a book for that purpose, which shall contain the names of all persons who are committed to any such jail, their residence, the time when committed and cause of commitment, and the authority by which they were committed; and if for a criminal offense, a description of the person; and when any prisoner is liberated, state the time when and the authority by which the prisoner was liberated; and if any person escapes, state the particulars of the time and manner of such escape.
II. UNIFORM BAIL SCHEDULE.
Wisconsin Stat. § 969.065 provides:
Judicial conference; bail alternatives. The judicial conference shall develop guidelines for cash bail for persons accused of misdemeanors which the supreme court shall adopt by rule. The guidelines shall relate primarily to individuals. The guidelines may be revised from time to time under this section.
The Uniform Misdemeanor Bail Schedule, adopted by order of the Wisconsin Supreme Court on October 29, 2007, provides in part: