The criminal process in Wisconsin usually starts at arrests. However, the petition for an arrest warrant and sometimes a grand jury indictment may be held well before the actual detention of the accused. Furthermore, it should be noted that the majority of the criminal cases do not go to trial instead they are handled through plea bargaining. Given these legal intricacies, it would certainly help to know about the criminal procedure followed in the state from the time the suspect is taken into custody to sentencing.
Arrests can be made with or without active warrants
Contrary to popular perception, arrest warrants are not always the legal requirement for detentions. Particularly in case of felonies, the police need not wait for an active warrant when the matter is felonious. On the same lines, arrests can be made in misdemeanor cases either with warrants or without them, when the crime is committed in front of a police officer.
What happens after arrest?
Whether you are taken into custody under the provisions of an outstanding warrant from WI or not, you can only be detained for 48 hours before you will have to be produced in court. Depending on whether the crime in question is a misdemeanor or a felony, this court session will be an arraignment or a first appearance.
If you are being accused of a misdemeanor, you will be arraigned the first time you go to court. This means you will have to admit your plea at this point. Suspects who are being tried for felonies will go through their first appearance in which you will simply be told of your rights and the date will be set for a preliminary hearing
Felony preliminary hearing and arraignment
The preliminary hearing is a requirement only in felony cases but it can be waived by the defense. This is held at the Municipal Court and the magistrate tries to determine if there is reasonable cause to hold the accused responsible for the crime before the case can be bound over to the circuit court. The arraignment comes next; this is when the defendant is formally charged and will have to enter into a plea.
The Bail hearing
Bail refers to bonded release; the defendant will have to pay a surety amount to walk out of custodial detention. The bond amount is set by the magistrate depending on the crime and the risk level of the defendant. While everybody who is placed under arrest can seek bail, the judiciary is not obligated to grant the request. In fact, in certain felonies, as a rule, bail is not granted. If the accused is not given bail at this point, the defense attorney can revisit the matter at a later stage in the trial.
Formalities before the trial
The pretrial conference is marked by the discussion between the defense and the prosecution which can lead to a plea bargain. This is essentially an arrangement drawn up to prevent going to trial. In exchange for pleading guilty, the defendant is offered a lower charge and sentence. Pretrial motions will follow this stage where various nuances of the trial including the admissibility of the evidence are discussed.
The trial proper
Depending on the choice made by the defense, the case can be tried in front of the jury or the judge. Regardless of this, the trial will have the following stages:
- Opening statements: The matter is explained to the jury from the points of view of the defense and the prosecution
- Witness and evidence presentation: Both sides bring in their witnesses and evidence to prove guilt and innocence respectively. Testimony is refuted and witnesses are cross examined at this stage.
- Closing arguments: The case is summarized at this point by the defense and prosecuting attorneys
- Jury deliberation: Here the jury members take the time to decide the fate of the defendant
- Verdict: The jury gets in to announce their decision
If the accused is pronounced guilty, the judge handles the sentencing at the next court session. In the interim period, an appeal can be filed with a higher tribunal