Misdemeanor Theft Charge in Wisconsin: 3 Next Things to Happen
What to Expect from Your Initial Appearance in Court for Theft Charges
You head down to your mailbox and find a summons and complaint sitting there. You walk back into your house and read the letters from the court addressed to you. You panic because you've never been in criminal court before and have no idea what to expect. While every county is different when it comes to their exact process for initial appearances, there are some general guidelines regarding what lies ahead.
As of June 2017, Wisconsin Statute 943.20 in pertinent part states:
“Whoever intentionally takes and carries away, uses, transfers, conceals, or retains possession of movable property of another without the other's consent and with intent to deprive the owner permanently of possession of such property.”
Hire an Attorney—You’re Going to Need One
Anytime you are facing criminal charges, misdemeanor theft or otherwise, one of the first things you should do is hire an attorney, especially if you are facing jail time as a possible outcome of a case. An attorney is essential to ensure neither the State nor the judicial system takes advantage of you simply because of your lack of experience.
You Are Only Guilty If You Are Convicted
After hiring an attorney, you will need to go to the courthouse for your initial appearance. An initial appearance for a misdemeanor theft charge is a simple process, but it is full of nuances that can both negatively and positively affect your case.
At your misdemeanor initial appearance, bail/bond is decided, a plea is entered, discovery may be received, your Judge is assigned, and your next court date is determined.
1. Bail/Bond is Set
The court commissioner will decide if you will remain free while your case is pending or if you will be required to post bail in order to stay out of custody. Here it is helpful to have an experienced attorney who can argue on your behalf and secure a signature or personal recognizance bond.
A signature bond is a promise to pay a certain amount if you violate the terms of the bond or fail to appear at your future court dates. It allows you to remain out of custody while your case is pending, so long as you abide by the requirements of the bond. If you violate those requirements, or if you fail to show up for future court dates, the signature bond can be revoked. If the signature bond is revoked, you can be taken into custody and will likely forfeit the amount listed on the bond.
If you have an attorney with you, the attorney will argue on your behalf as to why you should remain out of custody without having to pay the court any money upfront. Reasons can range from how long you’ve lived in the community to the simple fact you have retained an attorney to represent you.
2. Plea is Entered & Discovery is Received
The State makes their appearance (tells the Judge who they are); your attorney identifies himself/herself and indicates your name for the record. The attorney will acknowledge he/she has a copy of the criminal complaint, will likely waive the reading of the complaint (usually there is no reason for the audience to hear the alleged incident), and will enter a not guilty plea on the record.
At this point, often the State will turn over the discovery in the case. "Discovery" consists of the police reports, witness/victim/defendant statements, squad car video, interrogation recording, pictures taken, property taken, warrants issued… namely all the evidence the State intends to use against you. If you are represented by an attorney and the State has these items ready, often the State will turn the discovery over to the attorney at the initial appearance.
3. Judge is Assigned & Next Court Date is Given
At the end of your initial appearance the court will give you a new date to appear, the courtroom where you are required to appear, and the Judge who will be deciding your case. Every Judge is unique. One Judge might give a lenient sentence whereas another may issue a very harsh sentence. However, that same lenient Judge may not always be good to have at trial. Therefore depending on the county, the case, and the desired path the case will take, there may be a desire to get a new Judge. Every criminal defendant is entitled to file a motion to get a new Judge. You are given this right only once and must meet certain time limits. If the substitution request is made after the time limits have passed, you have lost your right to change your Judge.
Get Milwaukee’s Top Criminal Defense Attorney for Your Misdemeanor Theft Initial Appearance
Having an experienced attorney representing you not only gives you the peace of mind that a professional is handling the situation, but also protects you against the numerous pitfalls that can harm your case.