Understanding Wisconsin's Dept. Of Public Safety

Wisconsin State Capitol
Wisconsin State Capital
Photo taken by Jeff Dean

The Wisconsin Criminal Justice System is responsible for administering punishment to criminals. They are also responsible for apprehending those criminals, and defining the laws by which those criminals culpable. The process begins when a crime is reported, and only varies slightly between felonies and misdemeanors. Simply put, after the crime occurs, there is a police investigation in which law enforcement agencies identify a suspect, the suspect may or may not be apprehended, the agencies report their findings to the courts or the district attorney, and the suspect appears before court. Depending on which type of crime the suspect is accused of, they may find themselves in the many different courts of Wisconsin.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Wisconsin is the highest court in the state and is located in the state capital of Madison. The court is composed of seven justices, each elected to a 10-year term in statewide elections held in April. If a justice leaves prematurely, a new one is appointed by the governor of the state. Justices on the court can only run once. The court is the final stop for appeals before appeals are submitted to the United States Supreme Court. It has appellate jurisdiction over all Wisconsin courts and also determines which appeals it will hear. In some cases, they will hear original actions that were not appealed from lower courts. They select these cases and how they review them based on the stipulations described in the Wisconsin Statutes.

Besides deciding cases, the supreme court serves as the administration for the Wisconsin Court System. They work to ensure the court system operates fairly and efficiently. This includes budgetary responsibilities, long-term planning to determine the future of the court system, integration of information technology, the rules of pleading and practice as defined by Wisconsin Statute § 751.12, security and facilities management, procedures for juror use and management, and court-connected alternative dispute resolution.

The final function of the supreme court after deciding cases and administrative functions is their regulatory functions. This means that together with the Board of Bar Examiners, the court oversees bar admissions and monitors lawyer compliance with Wisconsin’s legal education requirements. The same requirements apply to the state judiciary.

 

Court of Appeals

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals serves as the state’s intermediate appellate court. The court is made up of 16 judges selected from four districts in Madison, Waukesha, Wausau, and Milwaukee. Each of the four districts of the Court of Appeals is managed by a presiding judge, whose term lasts for two years. The chief justice of this court is appointed by the supreme court for a term of three years.

The main function of the court of appeals is to correct errors that occur in lower courts. It is the right of any citizen to be able to appeal a decision made in a lower court, and the courts of appeals decide whether or not to hear the case. The court mainly deals in small claims actions, traffic regulation violations, mental health cases, juvenile cases, contempt and misdemeanor cases, and municipal ordinance violations.

The court of appeals takes no testimony, and instead relies on the circuit court record and written briefs of the parties involved in the original case. They do however hear oral arguments when the judge feels it would influence the decision.

 

Circuit Courts

These are Wisconsin's trial courts, and there are nearly 250 currently operating in the state. They are divided into branches with at least one branch in every county. There are six counties that serve as the exception, as they are paired off with neighboring counties. They are Buffalo and Pepin, Florence and Forest, and Shawano and Menominee. Each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties are grouped into nine districts.

The circuit courts hold original jurisdiction in all civil and criminal matter in the state. They include probate, juvenile, and traffic matters, in addition to the standard civil and criminal jury trials.

 

Municipal Courts

Wisconsin’s 237 Municipal Courts mainly cover traffic, parking, ordinance and first time drunk driving offenses. They also cover juvenile matters such as truancy, underage drinking, drug offenses, and curfew violations. They also oversee matters relating to health code violations, animal control violations, and trespassing.

They have exclusive jurisdiction over ordinance violations. Cities, villages, and towns are authorized to create their own municipal courts.

There are no jury trials in municipal court. All cases are decided by a judge. The exception to this is with first time drunk drivers, who may seek a jury trial at a circuit court within ten days of the initial municipal court appearance. All others must wait for an initial finding from the municipal court.

 

“Besides deciding cases, the supreme court serves as the administration for the Wisconsin Court System.”

How a case comes to the Wisconsin Supreme Court

 

WISCONSIN SUPREME COURTAt oral argument, each side is allowed 30 minutes to present its case. Oral argument supplements and clarifies arguments the lawyers have already set forth in written submissions called briefs.Following each day’s oral arguments, the court meets in conference to discuss and take a preliminary vote on the cases argued that day. After the vote, a justice is assigned by lot to write the majority opinion. There are seven justices on the Court.The Court usually releases opinions for all cases heard during its September through June term by June 30 of that year. Opinions are posted on the court system Web site on the morning of their release (www.courts.state.wi.us).THE COURT OF APPEALSIs an error-correcting court. It is made up of four districts and 16 judges. The Court of Appeals considers all cases appealed to it and will either:review the case, using the transcripts of the circuit court proceedings, sometimes supplemented with oral argument. The Court of Appeals will rule in favor of one party.certify the question to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Certification means the Court of Appeals, instead of issuing its own ruling, asks the Supreme Court to take the case directly because the Court of Appeals believes the case presents a question of law that belongs before the Supreme Court. It takes a vote of at least four justices to take a case on Certification. The losing party in the Court of Appeals case may ask the Wisconsin Supreme Court to hear the case. Thisis called a Petition for Review. The Supreme Court receives about 1,000 petitions for review each term, and agrees to hear approximately 100 of these cases. It takes the vote of at least three justices to take a case on a Petition for Review. The Wisconsin Supreme Court, on its own motion, can decide to review a matter appealed to the Court of Appeals, ultimately bypassing the Court of Appeals.This is called Direct Review. It takes a vote of at least four justices to take a case on Direct Review.The losing party may appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals.The losing party may file a Petition to Bypass, asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take the case directly, bypassing the Court of Appeals. It takes a vote of at least four justices to take a case on Petition by Bypass.An individual or government entity may ask the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take Original Action in a case. This means that the case has not been heard by any other court. Because the Supreme Court is not a fact-finding tribunal, both parties in the case must agree on the facts.An individual, group, corporation, or government entity may bring a civil case, and the government maycommence a criminal case, in the CIRCUIT COURT. After the proceedings, the circuit court will rule in favor of one party. There are 241 circuit courts in Wisconsin.
Created by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Sept. 2000.

 

“There are no jury trials in municipal court. All cases are decided by a judge. The exception to this is with first time drunk drivers, who may seek a jury trial at a circuit court”

 

felony & misdemeanor procedure

 

Crime Occurs Police Investigation Criminal Complaint Filed (the document that formally charges someone with a crime) Plea of Not Guilty or *Plea of Not Guilty by Reason of Mental Disease or Defect Not enough evidence for referral to district attorney Suspect identified:May or may not be taken into custody Police reports referred to district attorney No Charges Issued Plea of Guilty or No Contest Motion Hearing Dismissal Trial Finding of Guilty Finding of Not Guilty Presentence Investigation(if ordered) Post sentencing hearings may occur. Post sentencing hearings may include: appeals, modification of sentence or restitution hearing. Change of plea Sentencing Pretrial/Status Conference No Charges Issued Preliminary Hearing Bound Over For Trial Arraignment Dismissed(No Probable Cause) Felony Misdemeanor

 

“Crimes in Wisconsin are divided into Felonies and Misdemeanors. These are further divided in Class A-I felonies, and Class A-C misdemeanors.”

Those who commit crimes in Wisconsin are subject to punishment, and Wisconsin has an extensive list  to define what punishments are assigned to each crime. Crimes in Wisconsin are divided into Felonies and Misdemeanors. These are further divided in Class A-I felonies, and Class A-C misdemeanors.

 

Felonies

Jeffery Dahmer sentenced to life in prison
Jeffrey Dahmer is likely the most famous serial killer in the United States, let alone Wisconsin. Because Wisconsin abolished the death penalty over 100 years ago, Dahmer was sentenced to life in prison, where he was murdered. Most recently, the lawyer who defended him has lost his license to practice law.
  • Class A Felonies are the most serious type of offense in Wisconsin. They are typically punishable by life imprisonment. The most common crime punished in this category is murder.
  • Class B Felonies are serious crimes in Wisconsin. They are usually punished with imprisonment for up to 60 years. Typical crimes in this category include first degree sexual battery.
  • Class C Felonies are serious crimes in Wisconsin. They are punishable by up to 40 years in prison, and $100,000 in fines. Typical crimes in this category include OWI vehicular homicide.
  • Class D Felonies are serious crimes in the state of Wisconsin. They are punishable by up to 25 years in prison, and $100,000 in fines. Typical crimes in this category include committing a hit and run that involves a fatality.
  • Class E Felonies are serious crimes in the state of Wisconsin. They are punishable by up to 15 years in prison, and $50,000 in fines. Typical crimes in this category include aggravated battery.
  • Class F Felonies are serious crimes in the state of Wisconsin. They are punishable by up to 12.5 years in prison, and $25,000 in fines. Typical crimes in this category include modifying a gun to operate like a machine gun.
  • Class G Felonies are serious crimes in the state of Wisconsin. They are punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and $25,000 in fines. Typical crimes in this category include strangulation and possession of 1 to 2.5kg of marijuana with intent to sell.
  • Class H Felonies are serious crimes in the state of Wisconsin. They are punishable by up to 6 years in prison, and $10,000 in fines. Typical crimes in this category include theft of property valued at between $5,000 and $10,000 and arson with an intent to commit insurance fraud.
  • Class I Felonies are the least serious felonies in the state of Wisconsin. They are punishable by up to 3.5 years in prison, and $10,000 in fines. Typical crimes in this category include possession of child pornography, and theft of property valued at between $2,500 and $5,000.

 

Misdemeanors

  • Class A Misdemeanors are the most serious misdemeanors in the state of Wisconsin. They are punishable by up to 9 months in prison, and fines of up to $10,000. Typical crimes in this category are hazing, theft of property valued at less than $2,500, and obstructing an arrest.
  • Class B Misdemeanors are serious misdemeanors in the state of Wisconsin. They are punishable by up to 3 months in prison, and fines of up to $1,000. Typical crimes in this category are a second offense of possession of alcohol as a minor, disorderly conduct, and trespassing in a hospital or medical facility.
  • Class C Misdemeanors are serious misdemeanors in the state of Wisconsin. They are punishable by up to 1 month in prison, and fines of up to $500. Typical crimes in this category are vagrancy, providing alcohol to a minor, and drinking on public transportation.