Misdemeanor Criminal Court - Madison, Dane County, Wisconsin
Criminal CasesIn Wisconsin misdemeanors are criminal charges
handled in Circuit Court. Unless a person is charged as an habitual
offender, the maximum confinement penalty for a misdemeanor is a year in the
county jail. Most misdemeanors have maximum penalties much less. Maximum
penalties are rare. Some misdemeanors have only a fine as a penalty. The
maximum fine is $10,000 or less for most misdemeanors. All
criminal cases give the defendant (and the government) the right to a jury
An ordinance violation carries only a monetary penalty and is not a
crime. Many misdemeanors can instead be charged as ordinance violations.
Virtually all felonies have maximum penalties that include potential
time in state prison. Prison and jail are not the same.
Either felonies or misdemeanors can result in probation, sometimes with
time in jail.
This page is about misdemeanor court procedure in Dane County, Wisconsin.
Procedures in other counties will be somewhat different; in other states
they will be very different.
Frequently Asked Questions about Criminal & Traffic Court
Arrest on a Misdemeanor in Dane County (Madison) Wisconsin
Often a misdemeanor charge starts with an arrest. An arrest can be made
if the officer has "probable cause" to believe a crime was committed. That
can be based on physical evidence, claims of witnesses, or
statements the officer claims were made by the defendant.
Bail in a Misdemeanor Case in Dane County (Madison) Wisconsin
Bail can be posted without a court appearance on misdemeanor charges.
Often a person arrested will be released without bail and given a date and
time to report to court. Bail can be posted using cash, a debit or credit
card, or a cashiers check - no personal checks. If bail is returned it will
be sent back to the person who posted it. See below for more on bail return.
If the defendant does not show up, a warrant for his/her arrest will be
issued by the court.
Misdemeanor Citation in Dane County (Madison) Wisconsin
Rather than arrest someone for a misdemeanor an officer can give that
person a misdemeanor citation (ticket). This will almost never happen if the
charge involves a domestic dispute. The citation tells the defendant when to
show up for court. If the defendant does not show up, a warrant for his/her
arrest will be issued by the court.
Summons and Complaint for a Misdemeanor in Dane County (Madison)
Rather than making an arrest, an officer can refer a case to the
prosecutor. If the prosecutor decides the case merits prosecution, a
criminal complaint based on the police reports. It will be accompanied by a
summons giving a date and time to appear. If the defendant does not
show up, you've got it, a warrant for his/her arrest will be issued by the
Initial Court Appearance for a Misdemeanor in Dane County (Madison)
The first appearance in court is called the "Initial Appearance" or
"Arraignment." In Dane County this is where you get the formal charge,
called a "Criminal Complaint" and bail is set. The Criminal Complaint
is a formal document signed by a police officer under oath before a
prosecutor. It tells the court which crime(s) the defendant is charged with
and gives enough facts to support those charges. It tells the defendant what
the maximum (and minimum) penalties for the offense are. The complaint may
charge the crime for which the defendant was arrested or something
The bail is
almost always a "signature bond" where you promise to pay an amount of money
if you miss court or if you violate other conditions of your bond. Usual
conditions include not committing any crime, showing up for court, notifying
the court of any address change, and avoiding contact with victims or
witnesses. If a victim or witness is a family member or coworker this can
cause life problems. People innocent of their original charge sometimes end
up convicted of bail jumping for violating bond conditions.
The court automatically enters a "not guilty" plea at this appearance. If
for any reason you were not fingerprinted when initially arrested, the
court will order that you go to the Public Safety Building and be booked. If
there have been problems in the past with compliance with bond conditions,
some cash bail may be required. If cash bail is required, the defendant is
held in custody until it is posted. Again, a requirement to post cash is
unusual when people come into court without having been arrested and held to
get them there. If a signature bond is set and cash was previously posted
the court will order the bail returned to the person who posted it.
At the Initial Appearance the prosecutor will usually know very little
about the case or the defendant. They are not usually in a position to make
any kind of sentencing recommendation. The Court Commissioner presiding will
know even less. The prosecutor at initial appearances will have been handed
a box of files on the way into court; he or she will not have read the
police reports and did not draft the Criminal Complaint.
If the defendant does not have a lawyer at this hearing information and
directions to the
State Public Defender's Office will be given.
At the initial appearance in Dane County the defendant (defendant's
attorney) is usually given a copy of the police reports and served with a
copy of a motion for "discovery" requesting information from the defense.
Also included is a paper authorizing police agencies to release video or
photographic evidence to the defense. An experienced attorney may demand
additional information from the prosecution. When the defendant signs the
bail bond, he/she is usually given a notice of the next court hearing - the
Settlement Conference. If the case involves a domestic or other violent
crime the police reports are not given immediately and the settlement
conference is skipped.
The Settlement Conference for a Misdemeanor in Dane County (Madison)
The Settlement Conference will be set for a morning four to six weeks
after the initial appearance. During settlement conferences the prosecutor
actually handling the case should be in one of the conference rooms
available. The defendant and attorneys are told which prosecutor is where.
The meetings are usually brief but include some sort of offer from the
prosecution as to what a recommended sentence will be if the defendant
pleads guilty to one or more charges. Judges are not required to follow prosecutor
recommendations and do not always do so.
If an agreement is reached, the prosecution and defendant will appear
before the judge and a plea entered. Often even if there is an agreement, the matter will be set for
another date for the plea and sentencing.
If no agreement is reached, the matter will be set for further court
If there were things wrong with the arrest or other police or court
procedures, the defense attorney may bring a request for a court order,
called a motion, before the court. Both sides may ask the court for an order
as to future procedures or trial rules. These motions will usually be set
for a separate hearing. At that hearing there may be people testifying and
other evidence introduced. Such motions are sometimes brought even if the
attorney bringing them does not expect to get the order requested. This can
be done for tactical reasons so long as there is a real basis for the
motion. Suppression motions may be brought challenging the
admissibility of statements or of results of a questionable search.
One or more court dates titled a "pretrial hearing" will be scheduled.
Such hearings are for the defense attorney and prosecutor to bring the court
up-to-date on the status of the case. They usually involve discussions of
the case between the lawyers followed by a brief court appearance. Although
the time before the judge is usually brief, a pretrial hearing can take
several hours because of court scheduling. The scheduling notice for a
pretrial hearing will often also contain scheduling information for jury
selection and jury trial dates.
Jury selection in Dane County is always done on a Monday morning. (If
Monday is a legal holiday, Jury Selection for that week is done on Tuesday.)
During Jury Selection both sides are allowed to ask questions of prospective
jurors to assure that they can be fair. Neither side gets to pick who they
want to be on the jury; instead each side can indicate some people from the
panel that they do not want on the jury. In other counties, jury selection
is usually done the morning of the trial. Many cases will be scheduled for
jury selection in Dane County on the same day for the convenience of
prospective jurors and the courts.
Trial by jury is a constitutional right for the defendant (and a
statutory right for the government). At a jury trial the government must
prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime(s)
charged. The defendant does not have to prove anything. The defendant has
the right to testify and call witnesses but is not required to do so.
Evidence presented by either side is subject to cross examination
(questioning) by the other side. Jurors may be permitted to ask questions.
Both sides get to give a brief statement at the beginning of the trial about
what they expect the evidence to show and at the end of the case about what
they believe the evidence did show. The judge explains the law to the jurors
before they decide the case. All of the jurors must agree on any verdict in
a criminal case (guilty or not guilty). If the jury finds the defendant "not
guilty" of all charges, the case is dismissed. If the jury finds the
defendant "guilty" of one or more charges, the judge will be required to
sentence the defendant.
If the defendant is convicted by a jury or pleads guilty, the court will
find the defendant guilty and sentence him/her for the crime(s) of
conviction. Sentences are given within a range between the minimum and
maximum penalty prescribed by the statute. Most misdemeanor charges have no
minimum sentences. Even if both sides agree on what the sentence should be,
the judge decides. Jail terms are usually served with work release (Huber)
and may be served on electronic monitoring.
Other penalties may include loss of a drivers license.
Whether sentencing follows a trial or is after a plea of guilty, the
judge will consider not only the crime of conviction but other factors in
the defendant's life. A major factor can be treatment for alcohol or drug
problems or domestic violence counseling before sentencing. If there is a
loss to a crime victim restitution may be ordered.
Collateral (Our-of-Court) Consequences of Convictions
Even if the sentence is a $10 fine, there can be enormous other
consequences not imposed by the judge. These can include loss of employment
opportunities, denial of child custody, loss of drivers license, and
permanent loss of firearms rights. In DNR cases there is often loss of
hunting and fishing privileges. For non-citizens deportation or exclusion
from the country can result.
If a person is convicted of a crime in Wisconsin there is a right to
appeal. An appeal does not generally look at guilt or innocence, rather it
looks at the procedures followed in reaching a decision. If an appeal is
won, the result usually is that a new trial is granted. Other remedies are
possible in unusual situations.
The right to appeal, though, is lost if not exercised in a timely manner.
The trial attorney is responsible for starting an appeal with a "Notice of
Intent" but will often not be the one to handle an appeal. That notice of
appeal must be filed within 20 days of the sentencing.
At any time prior to the entry of a jury verdict a defendant may enter a
guilty or no contest plea to one or more charges. If this is a part of a
plea bargain one or more other charges may be dismissed and there may be an
agreement on a sentencing recommendation.
Warning - Use at your own risk.
This page is not intended to be legal advice or substitute for legal
advice. It is intended to provide general information. Legal advice can only be
given with a full understanding of the actual facts of a case, generally in
a face-to-face consultation. Note that there are exceptions to many of the
statements made here. No one should act or refrain from acting in court
based on anything stated in this web page. My office does not give legal
advice to non-clients over the phone or internet. Further, the
law (and procedures) in criminal cases are changing rapidly. This page
reflects procedures in place in Dane County, Wisconsin, on August 31, 2011.
Elements of Certain Misdemeanor Crimes - What
They Have to Prove
Felony Court in Madison, Dane County, Wisconsin - procedure
DUI / OWI
/ Drunk Driving Cases
- How this office approaches DUI / OWI cases. The need for an assessment and
/ or treatment along with competent legal assistance is discussed.
DUI / OWI Treatment Court - an option that must be considered in Dane
County for some third-offense cases
DUI / OWI Field Sobriety Tests in
Wisconsin - A look at what "field sobriety tests" are - and are not - in
DUI / OWI (Drunk Driving) Wisconsin Ten
Day Warning - Why a defendant needs to take action before the court
process even gets going.
DUI / OWI / Drunk Driving Math in Wisconsin - What Counts as a prior
Wisconsin Judicial Sentencing Guidelines for OWI / DUI / Drunk Driving
cases by County. (Each judicial district has different guidelines.)
Dane County Wisconsin Court Brochures
This page last revised:
08 Mar 2019 11:28:50 -0500
Kyle Kenyon - When Experience Matters
Attorney at Law
5555 Odana Road, Suite
Madison, WI 53719-1280
Telephone (608) 276-9645
Former (Elected) District Attorney
Former Assistant State Public Defender
Extensive jury trial experience in cases
ranging from traffic to sexual assault / homicide
criminal cases since 1979
Appeals in Wisconsin Court of Appeals and
University of Wisconsin Law School
1978 - winner of Abe Sigman prize
University of Wisconsin - Madison -
Psychology - 1975
Trainer / presenter / panelist for
National College of District Attorneys,
Department of Justice,
Wisconsin Public Defender
Founding Director -
Children's Law Section
- State Bar of Wisconsin
Past-President: Marinette County Bar
Association, Door-Kewaunee Bar Association
of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL)
Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (WACDL)
Member: National College for DUI Defense
Member: State Bar of Wisconsin, Dane County Bar
Admitted to practice: State of Wisconsin, Federal - Eastern
District of Wisconsin, Western District of Wisconsin, 7th Circuit Court of
Certified to administer roadside
Field Sobriety Tests in Wisconsin
Drunk Driving Lawyer
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