Wisconsin's criminal process is similar to that in the rest of the country, although specific details may vary. Here's a general outline of what to expect if you are accused of a crime in Wisconsin.
Police officers need a good reason, or probable cause, before they can arrest you. Often this means they must first obtain an arrest warrant. They may also arrest you if they see you committing a crime. The officers must respect your rights and make sure you understand them. Right after arrest, they need to inform you of your Miranda rights: the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.
The next stop is the police station for booking. The police will fingerprint you, take your picture, and confiscate your personal belongings. You will then wait in a holding cell.
Getting Out on Bail
In most cases, you will be eligible for bail or be released on your own recognizance. If released on your own recognizance, you promise that you will return to court when ordered.
Wisconsin has a standard bail schedule for many minor crimes, and you may post bail right after booking. If you can't pay the standard bail, or there is no standard for your crime, you will need to wait for a hearing in front of a judge.
Once bond is set, you may:
- Pay it in full
- Hire a bail bondsman to post your bond in return for a nonrefundable percentage of your bail amount
- Allow the court to put a lien on a piece of property as security (property bond)
Making Your First Court Appearance
This first appearance should happen shortly after your arrest and is called an arraignment. The judge will address your bail, if necessary, at this hearing. The judge will also read the charges against you and, for a misdemeanor, you will enter a plea. Often defendants plead not guilty, which preserves their right to a trial.
If the charge is a felony crime, the judge will tell you your rights and you will have a preliminary hearing at a later date.
Making a Plea Deal
Very few cases make it to trial. Most defendants make a deal with the prosecutor to plead guilty in exchange for a lesser charge or a lighter sentence.
Attending Your Preliminary Hearing
For felony charges, the state requires a preliminary hearing to decide if there is enough evidence to go to trial. If the judge considers the evidence strong enough, you will have a second arraignment on the felony charges. This is when you'll enter your plea.
Going to Trial and Sentencing
If you do go to trial, the two sides will take turns making opening statements, presenting evidence and questioning witnesses. The jury will then deliberate and come to a verdict, which must be unanimous.
After a guilty verdict, the judge will sentence you based on the state's statutes and possibly other factors about your case. In most cases, the judge will set a later court date for sentencing.
Getting Legal Counsel
This article presents a very general view of Wisconsin's criminal procedures. For legal advice about your unique case, talk with an experienced criminal lawyer.