Wisconsin Criminal Court Process

Being called into court to face criminal charges is frightening. For most people, it is their first exposure to the Wisconsin criminal justice system. You probably are unsure of what to expect throughout the criminal process and this can only add to your stress.

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As your attorney it would be my job to keep you informed of the case at every stage of the game. I want you to be informed of the process so you are as comfortable as possible during this trying time.

The following is just a the most typical court dates and events, and what happens at them. There may be other dates also, and some Wisconsin courts may handle the process slightly differently. As your attorney, I will be sure to keep you informed as to exactly what will happen, and what you can expect at each appearance.

Arrest

Your arrest typically takes place when the police either serve a warrant or make an arrest at the scene of an alleged crime. What happens at your arrest is very important to me.

There are procedural rules that the police are required to follow in order to protect several of your constitutional rights. From reading your Miranda rights, to any searches they might perform, it is vital to the State’s case that the police follow these rules precisely.

I am interested in exactly how your arrest happened. I want to know what was said and what actions the police took. I want to be certain that your rights were not violated.

First Appearance/ Misdemeanor Arraignment

Your first appearance in front of the judge should happen shortly after your arrest. If you are being charged with a misdemeanor, this is where you will be “arraigned”.

Your arraignment is when you are formally charged and allowed to enter a plea. If you have not retained an attorney, you best option at this point is to plead not guilty and immediately call a qualified attorney. We can discuss your case and decide what the best options are for you.

If you are being charged with a felony, you will simply be advised of some of your rights at your first appearance. A preliminary hearing date will be set.

Bail

At your first appearance, the judge may address bail. Bail is insurance that you will return for future court dates. While not all offenses are eligible for bail, the judge will make a determination by evaluating whether or not you are to be considered a “flight risk”.

If the judge feels that you will not return for court, you may be denied bail. However, if the judge thinks you are a good candidate you might be required to post money as collateral of your appearance in the future.

This is not the only opportunity for bail to be addressed. As you attorney, I can revisit this issue with the judge later in the case as well.

Preliminary Hearing (felony)

A preliminary hearing is required in felony cases. Although in some circumstances your attorney may recommend you waive the hearing, it is to determine whether or not enough probable cause exists to send your case to trial.

A preliminary hearing resembles a trial in that both the prosecution and defense present portions of their case to the judge. The judge will determine if there is enough evidence to cause a “reasonable belief” that you committed the crime (probable cause). If the judge determines probable cause is present, your case will be bound over to circuit court.

Felony Arraignment

Following the preliminary hearing, you will go before the judge for your felony arraignment. This is where you will be formally charged and enter a plea. A trial date will be set at this point.

Pretrial Conference

This is an opportunity for the prosecution and defense to discuss the outcome of the case. Plea discussions will take place at this point.

The majority of criminal cases in the United States end in a plea agreement. This is simply when the prosecution agrees to lower the charge or make a lenient sentencing recommendation to the judge in exchange for a guilty plea. This saves the work of going to trial.

The decision to accept a plea bargain is huge and not something that should be decided without high quality representation. As your attorney it would be my job to help you look at all of your options and how those would affect you.

Pretrial Motions

Before trial, many motion hearings can be held. From continuances to admissibility of evidence, many things can be addressed in these hearings. They are there to ensure that both sides are completely ready when your trial date arrives.

Trial

The big day has finally come and you are ready for trial. While are criminal cases are different, trial follow a common pattern.

1.      Opening Statements: Each side, beginning with the prosecution will have the opportunity to introduce their case to the judge and or jury.

2.      Presentation of Evidence: The longest stage of the trial, this is where the prosecution attempts to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that you committed the crime you are charged with. Witnesses will be called and evidence presented by both sides.

The prosecution and defense take turns both in presenting evidence and questioning witnesses. This back and forth can go on indefinitely until both parties are satisfied.

3.      Closing Arguments: Closing arguments are the last opportunity each side will have to address the jury and judge.

4.      Judge’s Instructions to the Jury: Before the jury deliberates the case, the judge will instruct them of their legal duties.

5.      Jury Deliberations: The jury will retire decide your fate. A jury’s decision must be unanimous.

6. Verdict: Once the jury has reached a decision, the judge will enter a verdict.

Sentencing

Once a guilty verdict has been reached, it is up to the judge with the help of Wisconsin statutes to determine your sentence. Typically after the verdict is entered, the judge will set sentencing for a future date.

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