Navigating Wisconsin Felony Court Procedure
If you’ve been charged with a felony, you may be wondering what comes next in the legal process. Although it may be complex, it’s important to understand the system and keep track of key dates, appearances and updates in the case. An experienced criminal defense attorney can be a valuable asset when navigating an often confusing and overwhelming criminal justice system.
Here’s what you should know about felony procedure in Wisconsin.
The initial appearance is the defendant’s first court date after being charged with a crime. During the initial appearance, the court will inform the defendant of the charges being brought against them and the maximum possible penalties.
Bail, Bail Conditions, and Bail Jumping
When appropriate, bail and bail conditions may be set at the initial appearance. Bail is the amount of money a judge determines sufficient to release the defendant, on the condition that they attend future hearings. Bail conditions are the guidelines the defendant must follow during the duration of the case.
If a defendant fails to uphold the conditions of their bail - whether that be failure to pay, to appear in court, or to carry out another condition of bail - they may be charged with bail jumping.
At a preliminary hearing, a judge or court commissioner will determine if there is probable cause to send a case to trial. A defendant will have an opportunity to see some of the evidence against them, and their attorney has some limited opportunity to cross-examine any witnesses called by the prosecution.
If, based on the evidence and information presented during the preliminary hearing, probable cause cannot be shown, the case may be dismissed. If the court determines that more likely than not, a criminal offense occurred and was committed by the defendant, he or she will be “bound over” and the case will continue to the next step in the process.
During the arraignment, the defendant is formally charged and is asked to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest.
If the defendant pleads ‘guilty’ or ‘no contest,’ the criminal charges will be accepted and sentencing will follow. A pre-sentence investigation may also be ordered.
More often, the defendant will plead ‘not guilty,’ and proceedings will continue.
Motions and Motion Hearings
Once a ‘not guilty’ plea has been entered, the defense attorney can file motions, which are documents requesting the court take certain actions or challenging aspects of the investigation or arrest. Motions can be made for a number of reasons, such as to request certain inspections, provide notice of an alibi, or even to dismiss the case altogether.
Motions can be filed in writing ahead of the motion hearing or presented orally at the hearing. This is an opportunity for both the defense and the prosecution to make their case to the judge about how to proceed.
The judge may choose to dismiss the case based on the motions at this time. If motions to dismiss are rejected, the case will continue.
Pretrial is an opportunity for the attorneys to review the case, exchange discovery and discuss any agreed upon dispositions. At this point, there is an opportunity for the defendant to change their plea, which would allow them to forgo the trial and proceed to sentencing or take a plea bargain.
If the case is not settled through plea negotiations in pretrial, the case will go to a jury trial, where the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. A group of randomly selected jurors will hear the case and make a decision based on the facts presented.
If the defendant pleads guilty or no contest, or if they are found guilty after a trial, a judge will determine a sentence, or the legal consequence of the crime.
Consult an Attorney
The criminal justice system is complex, and cases can go on for a long time. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be a key asset and the defendant’s greatest ally. Everson Law Firm provides full-service criminal defense representation and can offer expert assistance in a wide range of criminal defense matters. Contact us to schedule a free consultation with Criminal Defense Attorney Randall Petrouske.