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Lawmakers Consider Changes to John Doe Proceedings

Posted on in Criminal Defense

Wisconsin criminal defense attorney, Wisconsin defense lawyer, your rightsOrdinarily, criminal prosecutions begin with a crime and a person accused of committing it, but that does not necessarily have to be the case. In fact, under certain circumstances, district attorneys can start legal proceedings without a defendant and possibly without even a crime. These proceedings, known as “John Doe proceedings,” are special investigative processes by which Wisconsin law allows prosecutors trigger to determine if a crime has been committed and who may have committed it. However, after two lengthy John Doe probes into Governor Walker's campaigns and fundraising, some lawmakers are proposing changes to a John Doe process that they think has gotten out of hand.

What John Doe Proceedings Are

John Doe proceedings are part of an old legal process that was originally designed to protect people from baseless prosecutions. In the past, prosecutors could begin prosecutions based on nothing more than suspicions, and many of these prosecutions would eventually turn out to be without merit. In order to put an end to these sorts of overly aggressive prosecutions, legislators introduced the John Doe proceeding.

These proceedings give prosecutors extra powers to investigate crimes without needing to bring a defendant before the court. For instance, district attorneys in John Doe proceedings have the authority to force people to testify under oath, and the ability to offer people immunity from prosecution.

One of the most controversial elements of John Doe proceedings is the fact that they can be conducted in secret. Not all of them are done secretly, but the judge overseeing it has the authority to keep the proceedings confidential. Oftentimes, this is necessary in order to prevent possible offenders from learning about the ongoing investigation or to allow witnesses to speak more freely.

Possible Changes

Many people in the state are now becoming concerned that even these John Doe proceedings provide too much power to police and prosecutors. The ability to compel people to go to court and answer questions under penalty of perjury is ordinarily outside the ability of police investigations, but it is one of the main uses of John Doe proceedings. This can be an intrusive process, especially in situations in which criminal charges have yet to be filed.

Some lawmakers are also concerned about the length of the proceedings. John Doe proceedings do not have mandatory time limits, so this intense scrutiny can last for years. While that is true of all criminal investigations, it becomes especially problematic in light of the extra authority that investigators wield while operating under the rules of John Doe.

John Doe proceedings are just one of the many powers that prosecutors have under the criminal justice system. If you are facing criminal charges, make sure you have someone on your side who understands the limits of their authority. Contact an experienced Milwaukee criminal defense attorney today.

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