In a Wisconsin Criminal Case, you may encounter the following hearings:
Initial Appearance. This is the first appearance in a criminal case. At this hearing, the accused is given a copy of the complaint against him and is advised of his right to a lawyer, and bail is set. If the person is charged with a felony, he will be advised of his right to a preliminary hearing. Although unusual, a person may waive his physical presence at the initial appearance and appear by phone or other means.
Preliminary Hearing. (Felony Only). At the "prelim," the prosecution is required to prove they have probable cause to go forward with the criminal charges. A prelim is a very one-sided affair. The judge is required to look just at the evidence the state has, and determine from that alone is enough to lead to the conclusion that the accused probably committed a felony. The accused has a right to question the witnesses, but the judge won't consider their credibility (whether they seem to be lying). The expectation is that in almost every case the court will find probable cause. Once the prelim is completed, the prosecution has 30 days to file an Information, which is a charging document similar to the complaint outlining the charges the defendant must face.
Arraignment. After the court finds probable cause, an Information is filed. Like the Complaint, the Information outlines the charges a person will face. The Information does not have to have the same charges as the Complaint, but must be consistent with the information presented at the preliminary hearing. At arraignment, the person charged will be once again notified of his right to have an attorney and be offered the option of having the entire Information read in court (most chose not to). Most importantly, the arraignment is when the defendant enters a plea to the charges. Typically, this plea is "Not Guilty." Even if the defendant wishes to plead guilty to the charges, it is crucial not to do so here, because first it is important to investigate the case and obtain a plea offer from the prosecution.
Status Conference. Between the set of Hearings that begin a case (above) and those that end it (last three below), are a series of hearings usually called status conferences. These are informal hearings where the court inquires about the progress of the case and usually wants to know why it is taking so long to resolve.
Bond Hearing. Conditions of release may be revisited anytime there has been a change in a person's circumstances to justify a change. Both monetary and behavioral terms can be changed.
Motion Hearing. A motion hearing is a hearing where the court hears argument and sometimes evidence (testimony) surrounding a particular issue in a case and issues orders.
Plea. A criminal case can only end one of two ways: the accused is either found guilty or acquitted ("not guilty"). The fast track to being found guilty is to plead guilty, usually in exchange for a plea bargain. A guilty plea is an admission to the court that you are guilty of one or more of the criminal charges in the complaint or information.
Trial. If a person challenges the states'’ charges or evidence, or believes he is not guilty, or simply does not wish to plead guilty for any reason, he goes to trial. Trial is the hearing where the state presents any evidence of guilt it has, and the defendant challenges that evidence and presents his own evidence. The jury listens to all the evidence and then decides in secret whether to find the defendant guilty or not guilty. Note that the criminal case doesn’t ever find you "innocent." You can either be found guilty, or not guilty, which legally just means the state couldn’t prove you were guilty enough to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Sentencing. Once a person is found or pleads guilty, the court will sentence him. A sentence is meant to serve several purposes. It is supposed to punish the person for their behavior. It is supposed to deter future similar behavior. It is supposed to protect the public. And, it is supposed to rehabilitate the offender. Punishment is most commonly jail time. The idea of deterrence is that the punishment and other consequences will scare you into not doing something wrong again, which protect the public by preventing future crime. Rehabilitation is the recognition that almost all criminal behavior is a product of social ills: poverty, poor education, mental illness, addiction to drugs or alcohol, and so on. The rehabilitation process seeks to treat these deficits to help the person learn not to resort to behaviors that society disapproves of. The reality is that the criminal justice system is far too busy to fix the years of problems a person has accumulated, so rehabilitative treatment relies heavily on the offender's motivation to accept treatment. The court examines each person's situation and determines what sentence is the best. For people with limited criminal history, a court is likely to emphasize rehabilitation. For a person with extensive history, punishment and public protection will be the focus.
There are many different types of proceedings in criminal cases, some of which the defendant must be personally present for:
- Any evidentiary hearing (a hearing with sworn witnesses)
- Jury Selection
- Pronouncement of Judgment and Imposition of Sentence
- Any other hearing required by the court
In misdemeanor cases, defendants may authorize their attorney (in writing) to appear for them at some of the above hearings.
Personal presence can also be replaced by appearance by telephone for some hearings, such as:
- Initial Appearance
- Waiver of Preliminary Hearing
- Competency Hearings
- Motions for Additional Time
- Arraignment if the plea is Not Guilty
- Most non-evidentiary motions
- Setting or reviewing bail