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Wisconsin Domestic Violence Defense Lawyer

Domestic Violence charges in WI range from non-criminal citations up to felony-level offenses with serious penalties:

  • Up to 15 years in prison
  • Fines up to $50,000
  • You could be forced to leave your home
  • Not allowed to have contact with your children
  • Lose your firearm rights for the rest of your life
Domestic Violence & your record How to beat Domestic Violence Payment plans

What is Domestic Violence according to Wisconsin law?

Domestic violence is not a specific crime or charge—it’s an enhancer: there is no crime of domestic violence in Wisconsin. Other crimes like disorderly conduct, battery, strangulation, and others can be classified as an act of domestic violence. The state uses statutes for battery to apply to domestic violence situations. There are three types of battery, varying from least to most serious:

  • Battery - Intentionally causing bodily harm to another without the person's consent, which is a Class A misdemeanor that can be penalized by up to 9 months confinement and a fine up to $10,000.
  • Substantial Battery - Intentionally causing substantial bodily harm to another, which is a Class I felony punishable by up to 3.5 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
  • Aggravated Battery - Causing great bodily harm to another, either with the intent to cause bodily harm (Class H felony) or the intent to cause great bodily harm (Class E felony). A Class H felony can be punished by at most 6 years in prison and a fine of $10,000 and a Class E felony can be punished by at most 15 years in prison and a fine of $50,000 fine.

A domestic violence charge could cost up to fifty thousand dollars and 15 years in prison. Usually, this is just a misunderstanding between a couple that blew out of proportion but occasionally you will have to defend a domestic violence charge from someone who is lying or exaggerating the truth.

Our criminal defense attorneys have negotiated multiple felonies down to misdemeanors, non-criminal tickets, and outright dismissal of charges. Through negotiation or jury trial our Wisconsin criminal defense attorneys faithfully represent your interests to the fullest under criminal law. Grieve Law LLC has the firearm, criminal defense, drug, and DUI attorneys in Waukesha and Milwaukee that surrounding areas trust for powerful results.

Charges can be filed for domestic violence in any incident where prohibited conduct occurs with an adult against:

  • his or her spouse/significant other
  • his or her former spouse
  • another adult with whom the person resides or formerly resided
  • another adult with whom the person has a child in common

Arrested for Domestic Violence in Wisconsin:

Wisconsin Domestic Violence Penalties

In Wisconsin, Domestic Violence charges range from non-criminal citations up to felony-level offenses with serious penalties:

  • up to 90 days in jail
  • a $1,000.00 fine
  • or both

The impact of a domestic violence conviction doesn’t stop at fines and jail time. You also could:

  • be forced to leave your home
  • not be allowed to have contact with your children
  • lose your firearm rights for the rest of your life
You are only guilty if you are convicted™

How will a domestic violence conviction affect me?

Domestic violence in Wisconsin can have additional consequences beyond just jail time, fines, and probation. A conviction for a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence will cause you to lose your second amendment firearm rights under federal law. An employer or potential employer may see your conviction and terminate your position. You might also have a difficult time getting a loan, renting an apartment, or finding a new job if you have a conviction for domestic violence on your record. Most applications ask whether you have any convictions, and a domestic violence case will be reported.

You may find your personal information shared on social media if someone decides to post about it. Domestic violence charges can also be used against you in child custody proceedings and divorce proceedings. The impact of these charges goes far beyond jail time and financial penalties.

Charges for domestic violence in Wisconsin can have a devastating impact on many aspects of your life. Your best option to avoid jail time and the significant potential embarrassment that comes from a conviction is to hire an attorney who has the experience and the knowledge to defend your case.

Arrested for domestic violence in Wisconsin: What you need to know

You may be convicted — whether or not the victim wants to press charges
Domestic violence charges often occur in one of two ways:
  • You & your significant other were having a dispute and things got out of hand. But the cops are called and now one of you is facing charges that could impact the rest of your lives.
  • The police were called & your significant other/ex/roommate made allegations that are exaggerated or completely untrue.

The alleged victim may agree the whole situation was blown out of proportion. In most domestic violence cases the alleged victim wants to drop the charges. If the alleged victim is pressing charges you may need a different strategy to handle your case.

The charges are The State of Wisconsin versus the person charged, not the victim versus the person charged. The victim is no longer in control of the case once police make an arrest for domestic violence charges and those charges are filed.

How Do I Get Domestic Violence Charges Dropped?

Law enforcement officers in Wisconsin are legally required to make an arrest if the arresting officer has reasonable grounds to believe:

  • the person is committing or has committed domestic abuse and the person’s actions constitute a crime
  • continued domestic abuse against the victim is likely, there is evidence of physical injury to the victim, or the person to be arrested is the predominant aggressor

Police officers MUST arrest the person determined to be the predominant aggressor. The predominant aggressor is not always the person who started it but is the most significant aggressor in a domestic abuse incident. Someone will probably be arrested if police are called to the scene of an alleged domestic incident.

The victim may want to drop charges but that won’t necessarily happen. The State can proceed with charges using other evidence and witnesses even if the victim chooses not to show up to court.

This does not mean you don’t have options. In cases of domestic violence in Wisconsin, it is very important to have a skilled, experienced domestic violence attorney on your side to help navigate the system. Your attorney must work to challenge the case against you if the state refuses to drop charges.

What happens after the arrest?

1. No Contact Order

When you are arrested for a crime that has a domestic abuse modifier added to it in Wisconsin there are several things that typically happen

After an arrest for a domestic abuse offense, the police will inform the victim in your case about their right to impose a 72 hour no-contact order. This order is in place for a short time and prevents you from being able to have any contact with the person listed as the victim. The no-contact order can be waived by the victim but the default position is that the no-contact order will be in place for 72 hours.

This can cause significant issues for you. If the victim in your case is your current roommate or a person you live with, you will not be allowed to go home for 72 hours. Even if you own the home or it’s or name on the lease, you will still be prohibited from returning to your home for 72 hours.

You also cannot have any electronic or telephonic communications with the victim in your case. This means you cannot call, text, email, or interact on social media. If you have minor children in common with the victim in your case, it may mean that you are not able to have contact with those children either.

Can a no-contact order be dropped?

A no-contact order can be dropped in theory but this doesn’t happen often. If they do not waive it at the time you are arrested, it is unlikely that an attorney or anyone else will be able to make a request that the no-contact order be lifted and gain approval before the 72 hours have elapsed. Once it is in place it will remain in place.

What if the alleged victim violates the order?

Keep in mind as well that a 72 hour no contact order only imposes requirements on the person charged with an offense. The victim is not required to refrain from doing anything. Your victim can call you, stop by your house, or send you text messages with no repercussions.

You can be charged with new criminal offenses for violating the 72-hour no-contact order if you respond to those messages or are found to be in the same place as the victim in the case.

2. Temporary Restraining Order

A restraining order is an order from a court that protects the petitioner from certain behavior of the respondent. The respondent is the person who is accused of threatening, harassing, or harming the petitioner.

If a person feels threatened or fears they are in danger but there is no immediate police involvement, they can file a petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO). The TRO protects the person who requested it from certain conduct of the respondent or the person who is being accused of the threatening behavior. It is a temporary order that only remains in place until an injunction hearing.

Temporary restraining orders require little proof, and the burden of proof at a TRO hearing is significantly lower than at a criminal trial. You may find the allegations in the petition for a TRO are exaggerated or completely untrue. Challenging these allegations can be done at an injunction hearing but a court will likely issue a TRO if someone makes the required types of allegations and a court finds reasonable grounds to believe them.

A respondent does not have the statutory right to be present at a TRO hearing. A court can even issue a TRO against you even if you were not given notice of the TRO hearing. But a TRO is only a temporary order and you can attend the injunction hearing to challenge the claims made in the TRO petition.

An injunction hearing follows a TRO. An injunction is a long-term order from a court that prohibits the respondent from taking certain action as it relates to the petitioner. The respondent must be served with notice of the injunction hearing. At the hearing, both sides can present evidence to the court to support why the injunction should be granted or not.

Can a restraining order be dropped in Wisconsin?

If the court grants a restraining order and the petitioner later decides that they do not want the order in place anymore, the petitioner can request to have it removed. The restraining order will remain in effect and any violations of the order could lead to additional criminal charges unless the petitioner goes through the formal process to remove it—even if both parties privately agree the order should be dropped.

Harassment Injunction

A harassment injunction can be ordered when there is harassing behavior alleged between parties. Harassment includes:

  • physical contact with the petitioner
  • stalking
  • engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts which torment or intimidate the person and which serve no legitimate purpose

The burden of proof at an injunction hearing is less than at a criminal trial. This often leads to he said/she said arguments. A harassment injunction is generally in place for up to 4 years.

The penalties for violating an injunction vary depending on the type of order that is violated. Any violation of an injunction can result in jail time and fines.

Domestic Abuse Injunction

A domestic abuse injunction can be ordered by a court when a person alleges that the respondent has engaged in acts of domestic abuse against the petitioner.

“Domestic abuse” means certain acts engaged in by:

  • a person and that person’s adult family member or household member
  • an adult who is under the care of the person
  • a former spouse
  • an adult with whom the person has or had a dating relationship
  • an adult with whom the person shares a child in common

Acts that qualify for a domestic abuse injunction in Wisconsin include:

  • intentional infliction of pain or injury
  • sexual assault
  • stalking
  • damage to property
  • threats to commit any of those acts

A court may grant a domestic abuse injunction if it finds reasonable grounds to believe that the respondent has engaged in acts of domestic abuse against the petitioner.

A domestic abuse injunction can be ordered for up to 4-10 years. Orders are longer if the court finds there is a substantial risk that the respondent may commit first or second-degree intentional homicide or sexual assault against the petitioner.

The burden of proof at injunction hearings is low. The court must only find reasonable grounds to believe the allegations.

If you are convicted of violating a domestic abuse injunction you face a fine up to $1,000 and up to 9 months in jail. Having an attorney represent you to present evidence and witnesses to dispute claims can help to prevent an injunction from being issued against you.

What types of charges usually have domestic abuse added?

Misdemeanor Battery

Charges Penalties

Misdemeanor Battery is charged when one person intentionally causes bodily harm to another person.

Domestic abuse battery is charged when bodily harm is committed on a person that shares a domestic relationship with the person charged. If one spouse hits their former spouse, that could be charged as misdemeanor battery domestic abuse. It could also be charged if a person threw a water bottle at their roommate, striking them and causing a bruise.

  • up to 90 days in jail
  • a $1,000.00 fine
  • or both

Disorderly Conduct

Charges Penalties

Disorderly conduct is any conduct that is violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, unreasonably loud, or otherwise disorderly and that is committed under circumstances that cause or provoke a disturbance.

This is charged when the alleged disorderly behavior occurs with a person with whom the charged person shares a domestic relationship. If spouses get into a yelling match and the neighbors hear and call the police, a charge of disorderly conduct, domestic abuse is likely on the way. Similarly, if two roommates have a loud argument where they swear at each other than the state may charge one of the roommates with disorderly conduct domestic abuse.

  • up to 6 years in prison
  • a $10,000 fine
  • or both


Charges Penalties

Strangulation in Wisconsin is charged whenever a person “intentionally impedes the normal breathing or circulation of blood by applying pressure on the throat or neck or by blocking the nose or mouth of another person.

Strangulation can be charged when there is a physical altercation between two people, and one of those people places their hands around the neck of the other person. A charge of strangulation does not require the victim to lose consciousness. The state can charge a person with strangulation when the victim indicates that their breathing was even slightly impeded.

Charges of strangulation often accompany an arrest for battery domestic abuse and disorderly conduct domestic abuse. The police will ask the victim specific questions to determine if these offenses can be charged. The state may still proceed with charges even if the victim later admits that the statement they made was an exaggeration or even an outright lie.

  • 3 ½ years in prison
  • a $10,000 fine
  • or both


Charges Penalties

The highest level of battery charge in Wisconsin is a Class E Felony.

Felony battery in Wisconsin is charged when one person commits an intentional act inflicting substantial or great bodily harm on another person. The level of harm inflicted will determine what level felony is charged.

If the person that suffers the harm in a felony battery case has a qualifying domestic relationship with the person charged, the state will add a charge modifier of domestic abuse to the felony battery charge. The domestic abuse modifier to a felony battery charge adds additional monetary penalties and other non-monetary penalties if the person charged is convicted. Don’t leave your constitutional rights to chance. Learn how our attorneys can help defend against felony battery charges in Wisconsin.

  • up to 15 years in prison
  • a $50,000 fine
  • or both

Added Charge Modifier:

  • up to 15 years in prison
  • a $50,000 fine
  • or both

Intimidating a Witness

Charges Penalties

In Wisconsin, a person can be charged with intimidating of a witness if they “knowingly and maliciously prevent or dissuade or attempt to prevent or dissuade any witness from attending or giving testimony at trial” or other hearing related to a court case.

Intimidating a witness can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The severity of the offense depends on whether force is used or threatened, and the degree to which that force is used or threatened. The state will often charge this offense if they believe a person charged with a criminal offense asks a witness not to come to court. These charges often accompany charges of Disorderly Conduct Domestic Abuse and Battery Domestic Abuse.

A common issue in these types of cases is direct evidence of intimidation. Often the state will rely on the statement of a witness that claims they were told not to attend court by the person charged with a crime.

  • 10 years in prison
  • a $25,000 fine
  • or both

Criminal Trespassing


In Wisconsin, any person who intentionally enters or remains in the dwelling of another, without the consent of the owner of the property, under circumstances tending to create or provoke a breach of the peace can be charged with criminal trespass to dwelling.

Prior permission to be on the property may not be a defense to this crime. Even if you have been to the house many times in the past, you can be charged with this offense if you fail to leave when asked. For example, if you normally go inside when you drop your child off at their other parent’s house but this time you are told you may not go inside, you could be charged with Criminal Trespass, Domestic Abuse if you enter the property.

  • 9 months in jail
  • a $10,000 fine
  • or both

Criminal Damage to Property

Charges Penalties

Criminal damage to property can be charged to anyone who “intentionally causes damage to any physical property of another without the person’s consent.” One common issue that arises in cases like this is that the property that was damaged belongs to the person who damaged it. For instance, if you and your spouse get into an argument, and you knock your TV off the stand on the way out the door, you can still be charged with this offense. A person can be charged with criminal damage to property of their own property if someone else also has an ownership interest in that property. This could apply to property that was purchased before the marriage occurred.

In that situation, you would not only have a charge of Criminal Damage to Property. You would also be facing additional penalties for domestic abuse because you were accused of damaging the property of your spouse.

  • 9 months in jail
  • a $10,000 fine
  • or both

Will My Case Go To Trial?

Not all domestic violence cases go to trial. In WI only about 4% of all cases go to trial.

The State is often relying on testimony from the victim to prove certain elements of the case. The State will often use the alleged victim’s account of what happened, any recordings of the victim’s statement, any photographs or videos taken, and any observations made by the responding officers as evidence to try to convict you of the crimes you are charged with.

Does the victim have to testify if they want to drop the charges?

If the State issues a subpoena to the alleged victim in your case, the victim is then court-ordered to appear at the trial and give testimony. In many cases, the victim does not want to proceed with the case and wants to drop the charges. In those situations, the best thing for you to do is hire an attorney who has experience dealing with domestic abuse cases.

Failure to appear on a subpoena can lead to criminal charges for the victim, so there are better ways to handle your case. An experienced attorney can guide you through the process of negotiating with the prosecutor to make sure they are aware that the victim does not want to proceed, and to point out the flaws in their case.

Can there be a domestic violence trial without a victim?

In many cases, the alleged victim will decide not to participate in the prosecution and not show up for court. That could mean the prosecution would not be able to proceed with the case and would dismiss the charges.

That is not always what happens. The State can use other evidence, including audio recordings, observations by officers, and other witnesses to try to prove the case against you.

Can I get a Plea Bargain?

In most cases, the prosecution will offer a plea bargain to a person charged with domestic violence in Wisconsin to resolve their case without going to trial. In some situations, accepting a plea bargain can be a good idea. Depending on the evidence against you and the potential penalties involved, an experienced attorney can negotiate an outcome that will significantly benefit you.

Plea bargains are not without risk. Most plea bargains require you to admit to something. That something is not always criminal charges, and it may not be a domestic violence offense. But most of the time, you will have to admit to some conduct that will lead to a conviction.

How to Reduce Penalties from Domestic Violence Charges

If you’ve been involved in a domestic violence incident and are facing charges, it is crucial to seek out a professional who knows how to help. 

Tom Grieve is recognized as one of the best criminal defense lawyers around Milwaukee and Madison. Distinguished as a “Top Criminal Defense Attorney in the Country” by Newsweek, Grieve Law is a firm you can trust. 

Whether you are facing a non-criminal citation or a felony-level domestic violence charge, the team at Grieve Law has the knowledge and experience to help reduce your penalties.


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