Plea Dates and Entering a Plea in Wisconsin
Wisconsin Criminal Defense Attorneys Help You Determine Whether a Plea Deal is Your Best Option
What is a plea date?
How is it used?
And why are cases sometimes set for plea date or “projected plea date” even if you have no plans of entering a guilty plea?
Whether you want to enter a plea or not, sometimes criminal and drunk driving cases in Milwaukee County, Waukesha County, and other counties are set for these plea dates. There are many reasons why this can happen, even if you do not want to enter a plea. The judge may set a plea date as a favor to you so the clerk knows to schedule your case for a larger block of time than they would for status hearings or other hearings.
Judges and courts have a lot of cases, and there are a lot of different ways cases are scheduled. It does not mean your case must end in a plea on that date. Your Milwaukee or Waukesha criminal defense attorneys can ask for an adjournment on your projected plea date.
Other times, if you do want to enter a plea because you have obtained a strong pre-trial offer after rigorous negotiations, then your case will be set for a plea date. Before this plea date, you may want to talk to your attorney about the rights you will be giving up by entering a plea. By entering a guilty or no contest plea, you forfeit your right to a trial and ask the court to find you guilty. As a result, you give up your right to remain silent and your right to have a jury find you guilty or not guilty, as well as many other important constitutional rights.
At the plea date, the judge will ask you a series of questions to make sure you understand the rights you are giving up by choosing to enter a plea. It is important for you to discuss these rights, as well as all of your other defense options, before choosing to enter a plea with your defense attorney. Sometimes, clients prefer to meet in the privacy of our firm’s office at a date prior to any kind of plea. Other times, clients prefer to meet in a room at the courthouse a half hour to an hour prior to any kind of plea date to review paperwork and forms and ask questions.
By the time your case gets to the plea date, you and your attorney will have already discussed these important questions. Just the same, it is extremely important that you understand what rights you are giving up, are prepared for court, and do not have any other questions.
In the courtroom, your attorney will hand a set of the plea questionnaire and waiver of rights forms, along with any other attachments, to the judge. The judge will review those before asking you questions about them. The judge is not trying to trick you in any way; they just want to make sure you are knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waiving your rights listed on the forms before accepting your guilty or no contest plea. Once the judge is satisfied you know what you are doing and you want to be doing it, they will accept your plea and most likely find you guilty.
What is the difference between a guilty and a no-contest plea?
A guilty plea is when a defendant is asking a judge to find them guilty. The defendant is admitting that they did something and that as a result of that action they should be found guilty.
A no-contest plea is when the defendant is telling the court, "Find me guilty, but I am not admitting whether I did anything or not."
So when should you enter a guilty plea and when should you enter a no-contest plea?
The major advantage to a no-contest plea is that if there are any civil lawsuits that may arise as a result of any alleged actions in the case, then civil attorneys cannot use your plea against you when they seek money and other possible damages. If you enter a no-contest plea, then they are very restrictive about how they can use certain evidence or information that comes out of your criminal case.
So why would anyone ever enter a guilty plea?
Many courts do not like defendants entering no contest pleas because they view it as “wimping out," “chickening out," or “dodging responsibilities." In other words, the judge may see it as you failing to take responsibility while still entering a plea. The result is that they may punish you with a stiffer sentence than you may have received if you had just entered a guilty plea. Keep in mind that most cases have really nothing to be gained by entering a no-contest plea versus a guilty plea. As a result, most defendants in criminal court whose cases end in a plea chose to enter a guilty plea instead of a no-contest plea.
In most cases, the case will proceed to sentencing immediately after a plea is entered. See Wisconsin sentencing factors and sentencing guidelines.