Vol. 83, No. 9, September 2010
Tax Causes of Crime to Fund Justice System
I am responding to George C. Brown’s “Let’s Talk” article (July 2010).
For the past 10 years, I have practiced almost exclusively in the field of criminal law as both a defense attorney and as a prosecutor. The vast majority of cases I have handled as defense counsel have been appointments through the Office of the State Public Defender. As a prosecutor, the overwhelming majority of cases involved indigent persons who needed public defenders.
While I wholeheartedly agree that the current rates of payment for private bar appointments are woefully low, there is also a correspondingly low rate of pay for new prosecutors. Additionally, almost every district attorney’s office is understaffed. Publicly funded defense and prosecution is part of the basic infrastructure of our democratic system and should be funded as such. Of course, the question always asked is “where will the money come from?” I propose that the additional funding to fully and fairly compensate public defenders and prosecutors come from proper taxation of the instrumentalities of crime.
Mainstreet.com ranked Wisconsin as the fifth “Drunkest State in the Nation” thanks in part to our low alcohol taxes. Wisconsin ranks third nationwide in alcohol taxes. For instance, the current tax on beer is only $2 per barrel, which equates to about $0.065 per gallon or $0.006 per bottle, according to the Department of Revenue website.
In 2008, Wisconsinites drank almost 40 gallons of alcohol per capita, mostly beer. As anyone who has ever been involved in criminal law knows, most crimes involve drugs and alcohol. Shamefully, we are number one in the nation in binge drinking and drunk driving. So let’s put a proper and fair tax on the causes of crime and help fund the criminal justice system. Again, according to the Department of Revenue, if the beer tax was increased to $10 per barrel ($0.325 per gallon; $0.03 per bottle), it would generate an additional $50 million per year! At a compensation rate of $50,000 per year, this tax would pay for 1,000 additional prosecutors and defense counsel – from beer sales alone.
As a final thought, maybe we ought to put this sort of “public safety tax” on other items that tend to be involved with crime – weapons, ammunition, pornography, and drug paraphernalia sold at head shops.
Atty. Brent H. DeBord
One Small Step Toward Responsibility
Ten years ago, I wrote an article in Wisconsin Lawyer about municipal immunity in Wisconsin, entitled “Fighting City Hall” (Dec. 2000). I concluded that judicial interpretations of the Wisconsin municipal claims statute were wrong, that the policy of municipal immunity did not work, and that there were better ways to protect public treasuries.
Now, at least one member of the Wisconsin Supreme Court appears to agree with me. In Pries v. McMillon, 2010 WI 63 (July 2, 2010), Justice Gableman, in dissent, stated “I am not satisfied that our cases faithfully interpret” the Wisconsin municipal immunity statute. He calls on the court to reexamine its jurisprudence in this area. Amen! It is about time. Are the other six justices listening?
If there is one thing people hate about government, it is laws that apply to everyone except government employees. Civil law is supposed to promote the exercise of due care for the safety of people who can foreseeably be injured by careless conduct. When legislators and judges act in their official capacities, people’s rights are affected. If we don’t like their decisions, we can vote against them in the next election. But if other unelected government officials cause damage to citizens, we should be able to hold them accountable like anyone else – in a civil lawsuit. Of course, police and other law enforcement officials should still be privileged to use reasonable force to enforce the law and protect citizens from danger. But immunity can foster irresponsibility. That should be the exception, not the rule.
Atty. Michael A. Pollack