How to Handle an Initial Appearance in a Criminal Case in Wisconsin STAFF PICK

Posted over 5 years ago. Applies to Wisconsin, 16 helpful votes



Your Contact Information

Be ready to give the court your name, current address, current telephone number, and similar information.


The Complaint

If you received a copy of the complaint before the initial appearance, read it. If not, ask for a copy in court or have the court read it to you. Make sure the complaint contains reasons the officers arrested you. If it does not, object. Tell the court the complaint does not support "probable cause" for the arrest. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. If you lose, you will simply continue with the appearance. If you win, you can ask the court to dismiss the complaint. If the court dismisses the complaint, prejudice will likely not attach. This means that the prosecutor can bring the complaint against you again. But, there is always the chance that the prosecutor will lose your case in the shuffle; and you will not be recharged. There are arguments to have the complaint dismissed with prejudice, but it is best to leave those to an attorney. If you are recharged, you will be making an initial appearance again and can follow these instructions.


The Plea

You have four options: Guilty, No Contest, Not Guilty or Remain Mute. I suggest remaining mute. If you plead guilty or no contest, the court will find you guilty. Why do that before the prosecution has proven you are guilty? If you plead guilty, no contest, or not guilty, you admit that the court has jurisdiction over you and lose the right to challenge the court's jurisdiction at a later date. If you remain mute, then you reserve your right to challenge the court's jurisdiction. 9 times out of 10, the court will have jurisdiction over you, but why waive your right to challenge it? Preserve your rights! To remain mute, simply tell the court that you remain mute and ask the court to enter a not guilty plea on your behalf.


Bail - Cash or Signature Bond

When arguing about bail, the court is interested in three things: the seriousness of the offense, your character, and the need to protect the public. If you want to argue about whether you should have a signature bond or a lower cash bail, here is what you should tell the court: Your age. Whether you were born and raised in WI; and if not, how long you have lived in WI. Your ties to the community (i.e., where you live now, family in the area, your job, etc.). Whether you have a high school diploma and any education beyond high school. Your employment history from the last 5 years. Whether you are seeking help (i.e., treatment for alcohol and drug abuse, anger management, etc.). Whether you have a prior criminal record. (If you do, do not bring it up! That is the prosecution's job!) And whether you were cooperative with the police. (If you were not, again, do not bring it up! That is not your job!)


Bail - Other Conditions

Money is not all that bail entails. Standard conditions of bail in all cases are (1) advise the court when you move within 48 hours of moving; (2) make all your court appearances; and (3) do not get arrested for any new offenses. There are also standard conditions of bail for specific charges. For example, in a DUI case, other standard conditions are to maintain absolute sobriety and to not drive without a valid license. In a domestic violence or disorderly conduct case, the court may order no contact with the victims or other people who participated in the alleged offense. If the victim is someone you live with, you can ask for no violent contact instead of no contact. No violent contact means no other incidents with the victim. No contact would force you to move to another place. Again, arguing about bail and understanding conditions of bail are other areas where an attorney can come in handy.


Next Court Date

If bail has been set and it is a signature bond or you can post the cash, then the last thing the court will do is set the next court date. (Remember to bring cash for bail with you. Some counties do not take credit cards or personal checks! Also, you can use the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access Program website to research common bail amounts for cases similar to yours in your area.) Make sure to bring your calendar/work schedule to court so you can request a date that you can make. If you do not have an attorney at this point and think you may qualify for public defender assistance, then you should contact the public defender's office in your county and schedule an assessment. If you do not believe you qualify for public defender assistance, you should still consult with a private attorney. Initial consultations are generally free. So again, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Don't just let them win. Put them to their proof.

Additional Resources

Wisconsin State Public Defender's Offices

Wisconsin Circuit Court Access Program

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