A criminal case proceeds through a variety of phases during the course of it's prosecution. A summary of those phases are as follows:
When a crime is reported, the police are responsible for conducting an investigation. After completing their investigation, the police may submit their reports to the District Attorney’s Office. A prosecuting attorney then reviews the case and decides whether to charge an individual with a crime, send the individual to the Court Diversion Program or decline charges.
When a defendant (suspect) is arrested and taken to jail, the defendant may be allowed release upon signing a bond promising to appear in court as ordered. Sometimes, release will not be allowed unless money is deposited with the jail at the time the bond is signed. Frequently, the conditions of the bond include not having any contact with the victim of the crime. A bond will remain in effect until the court case is concluded.
Filing of criminal charges
A criminal case begins when the District Attorney’s Office files with the court a document called a Criminal Complaint against the defendant. That document sets forth the crimes with which the defendant is being charged, the maximum penalties for each crime charged, and sworn information setting forth facts supporting the crimes charged.
A crime is a felony if the maximum term of imprisonment may be more than one year. Felonies include homicide; possession, manufacturing and delivery of drugs; robbery; burglary; theft in an amount greater than $2500; fifth offense operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated; and most sexual assault crimes.
A crime is a misdemeanor if the maximum term of imprisonment may be not more than one year in the county jail. Misdemeanors include cases of battery with minor injury; criminal damage to property, in an amount of less than $2500, disorderly conduct; theft, in an amount less than $2500; second, third and fourth offense operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated; possession of THC and drug paraphernalia; and in most instances issuance of worthless checks.
The initial appearance is the first court appearance after a defendant is arrested, served with a summons, or issued a citation. At the initial appearance, the defendant is formally advised of the criminal charges filed and the amount of bond necessary to ensure future court appearances will be determined. In misdemeanor cases, a plea may be entered at the time of the initial appearance. In felony cases, a plea may not be entered until after the preliminary hearing takes place.
A preliminary hearing occurs only in felony cases. If a person remains in custody and is required to post in excess of $500 to be released, as the result of new charges, they have a right to have a preliminary hearing within 10 days of the initial appearance. Otherwise, a person has the right to a preliminary hearing within 20 days of the initial appearance. At a preliminary hearing, the State must present evidence to show that a felony has been committed and that the defendant is likely the person who committed the felony. A defendant may waive this hearing and proceed to Arraignment.
An arraignment occurs only in felony cases and only if the court determines that the state has shown sufficient evidence at the preliminary hearing to allow the case to proceed. At the arraignment, the defendant is formally advised of the criminal charges in a document called an Information. A plea will be entered by the defendant at the arraignment.
Entering a plea
If the defendant enters a plea of not guilty, future court proceedings will be set. It is usually several months before a trial takes place. If the case goes to trial, victims and witnesses will be subpoenaed to testify.
If the defendant enters a guilty plea, the defendant may be sentenced at the time of the plea, or the sentencing may be scheduled for a later date to allow the victims to attend if they have so requested.
Pretrial conference/Motions/Final Pretrial/Status conference
Prior to the resolution of a case by guilty plea or trial, several other proceedings may occur. Hearings may be conducted by a judge to determine what types of evidence will be heard by the jury should the case be tried. Pretrial hearings may be scheduled at which time the parties will discuss possible settlement. A status or scheduling conference may occur to determine what type of proceedings should be scheduled.
The sentencing is the final step in the prosecution, after the defendant has been convicted at trial or by entering a guilty plea. The sentence is the punishment imposed on the defendant and is determined by the judge. The three primary sentencing factors considered by the judge at sentencing are the gravity of the offense, the character of the offender, and the need for public protection The District Attorney’s Office and the victim can make recommendations, but the judge is the final authority. The majority of defendants who are sentenced each year receive probation. Conditions of probation frequently include counseling, restitution, community service and payment of court costs. Many are ordered to domestic violence specific programming. Some defendants receive only a fine or are sentenced to the county jail. Others are sentenced to prison.
Since February 2003, the Truth in Sentencing law mandates when a prison sentence is imposed that it be composed of two elements. The first element is a period of confinement (in a prison) and the second element is a period of extended supervision. Both periods are for a fixed period of time. The total of the period of confinement and the period of extended supervision is the term of imprisonment. For example, a term of imprisonment could be three years in length with a period of confinement of one year and two years of extended supervision. In the preceding example, the defendant must serve one year in prison. Once the year is served, the defendant will be on extended supervision (with conditions of release) for two years. If a violation of the condition of release occurs, a portion of the period of extended supervision may be converted to a period of confinement and the defendant would be returned to prison. Parole does not exist for cases subject to Truth in Sentencing.
After sentencing, a defendant may appeal his/her conviction and sentence. The time it takes to decide an appeal varies greatly, depending on the number of issues raised and the complexity of the case. In some cases, the appeal may continue on to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
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