Written by attorney Aileen G. Henry

Wisconsin Felony Case Timeline

This guide briefly discusses what happens in a Wisconsin felony case after the District has issued charges. The first step after charges have been issued is the initial appearance.

Initial appearance: An initial appearance is a defendant's first appearance in court. A judge or court commissioner will read the charges if the defense does not waive the reading of the charges, Bail will also be set at this hearing.

Preliminary hearing: The second step is the preliminary hearing. The preliminary hearing is an evidentiary hearing at which the state must prove to the judge that there is enough evidence to believe the defendant committed a felony. Some defendants, for strategic reasons, will waive the preliminary hearing.

Arraignment: the third step is the arraignment. At the arraignment, the defendant is formally charged and is asked to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest.

PreTrial/Status: The fourth step is a pretrial conference, status, or further proceedings date. In many counties, such as Racine and Kenosha Counties, a pretrial conference is a conference between attorneys to see if the case can be settled without going to trial. In counties such as Racine and Kenosha Counties, pretrial conferences are informal and are not held before a judge. Status or judicial pretrial conferences are held before a judge and at this time, the defense attorney will indicate to the judge if the matter will be proceeding to trial or will be resolved with a change of plea.

Motion Hearing: The next step may be motion hearings if the defense attorney or district attorney files pretrial motions.

Change of Plea Hearing: The next step is the change of plea hearing. At the change of plea hearing, the defendant admits to the commission of a crime by pleading guilty or no contest. The accused will be convicted on his/her plea of guilty or no contest. In most cases, a presentence investigation will be conducted by the Department of Corrections. If a guilty plea is entered, the next step is the sentencing hearing.

Sentencing: At the sentencing hearing the court will impose its sentence. Sentencing follows a guilty plea or a finding of guilt by a jury or judge. If a change of plea hearing is not entered then a jury trial or bench trial will be conducted.

Trial: A trial is a hearing for presenting physical and testimonial evidence to a judge or jury for a determination of whether an accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt or not guilty of the crime charged. A defendant may be found guilty of all, some, or none of the charges. If the defendant is found guilty, s/he can then be sentenced for that crime by the judge at that time or at a later hearing; if the defendant is found not guilty of a crime, the charge is dismissed.

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