5 Important Parts of Your First Appearance in Court
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Wisconsin, your first appearance in front of the court will be your Initial Appearance. Some courts might call this an Arraignment. Several important processes take place during this hearing and can have a significant impact on the rest of your case.
The court will ensure you are aware of the charges against you and the maximum possible penalties, and if you want to have the charges read you may request the court do so. Many people receive their criminal complaint and summons in the mail weeks before their Initial Appearance while others receive it at their Initial Appearance. This document is going to be very important for your case.
It is very important for your attorneys to be present to assist you at this court date.
1. Entering a Plea
During arraignment, you will formally enter a plea. For most people, your plea at this initial appearance is not guilty. By entering a not guilty plea, you are able to take time to review the police reports and other evidence in your case and determine what defenses you can raise. It is possible to change your plea at a later date.
2. Criminal Complaint
At the Initial Appearance, the State formally files the charges against you in the form of a criminal complaint. This happens in 99.9% of cases. The criminal complaint will have your name, address, and descriptor information in the upper left hand corner, and it will state who is charging you. It will list the counts of the different crimes and offenses you are being charged with, as well as stating some of the particulars concerning those offenses.
3. Probable Cause
Below those counts, you will see what is called a probable cause section. The probable cause section is not the police reports on your case, and it is not evidence on your case. It is not meant to tell your side of the story or to present any defenses. In other words, it is not meant to be fair, balanced, or neutral. It is put together by the District Attorney’s office of the county charging you and states probable cause for the offenses listed in the criminal complaint.
For a misdemeanor offense, the police reports and other evidence may be given to you on the initial appearance date. For felonies, you may not be given the evidence until after your preliminary hearing.
4. Setting Bail
Bail under the law is meant to assure the defendant's future appearance in court. This usually means if you are from the local area you have been charged in, you may get a lower bail. Likewise, if you are facing less serious charges, the court will weigh that factor when setting bail. It is an option to ask a different or a later court to review and modify bail as the case and circumstances proceed. This is very important to discuss with your attorney.
During your initial appearance, the court will formally set bail. You may have been required to post bail in order to leave the police station after you were arrested. If that is the case, often the court will set your bail for the same amount you have already posted, and therefore you would not have to post any additional bail.
If you did not post any bail, the court could set a cash bail amount you have to pay in order to be released from custody, or the court could set a signature bond.
Cash bond is what you are probably familiar with in the movies and television: you or someone on your behalf must post a certain amount of money for you to be released from jail and the court facility. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, the maximum possible cash bail is the maximum possible fine you are facing. If you are facing multiple misdemeanors, the sum of all the fines you are facing is the maximum possible cash bail. If you are facing a felony, there is no legal limit as to how high the cash bail may be under the law.
If the charges against you are dropped or if you win at Jury Trial, then the money posted as bail will be returned to the person who posted it, usually within four to six weeks of the conclusion of your case. If you are found Guilty, then the court will use the amount you have posted on cash bail to apply it to any restitution owed to a victim, as well as to any fines or court costs that arise as part of your case. Any remaining balance will be refunded to the person who posted it.
A signature bond, also known as a personal recognizance bond, allows you to leave the courthouse without posting any money. Instead, you are basically entering into a contract with the State of Wisconsin and the County charging you, saying you will follow the terms and conditions on the contract.
If you fail to do so, they may not only sue you for the amount of money listed on the contract (i.e. $1,000, $2,000, etc.), but they may also charge you with Bail Jumping. If you are on felony bail because you have been charged with one or more felonies, then any bail jumping would be a new felony case against you. Likewise, if you are facing misdemeanor charges, then you are on misdemeanor bail and any violation of bail would be charged as a misdemeanor bail jumping.
It is extremely important to understand the terms and conditions of the signature bond. If your case is dismissed, you win at Jury Trial, or you resolve your case by way of plea, then you will likely never have to post any kind of cash bond if you were given a signature bond on your case.
Regardless of whether you are given cash bond or a signature bond, the court will also set bail conditions. Those conditions are things you must do or refrain from doing while your case is pending. If you do not abide by those conditions, your bail could be revoked, you could be taken into custody, and you could be charged with bail jumping.
5. Right of Substitution
One final aspect of your initial appearance is you can exercise your right of substitution against your judge. Under Wisconsin law, you have the right to substitute on your assigned judge one time. While you cannot choose your judge, you can say you do not want the judge your case is currently assigned to, and another judge will be randomly assigned to your case. This right must be exercised within 10 days of your arraignment, or you lose it.
Contact Grieve Law to Get the Best Attorney for Your Initial Appearance
If you have been charged with a crime and you are facing an initial appearance, a skilled attorney can help you through the process to ensure you have the lowest bail possible and to advise you on other rights you must exercise at that time.
If you are facing a misdemeanor charge, then the court will need to set your next hearing date. Many times before doing so they will proceed to arraignment. If you have been charged with one or more felonies, then you will be entitled to a preliminary hearing. Most counties deal with the preliminary hearing as part of the early court process in a case.