Lawyer Referral & Information Service

Criminal Law

If you are confronted with a situation requiring legal consultation on a criminal justice issue, it is best to speak with an attorney who specializes in criminal defense law as soon as possible. Generally, the sooner a criminal defense attorney is brought into a criminal case or investigation, the more effective and better potential results for the client. Criminal defense attorneys have the specialized expertise and knowledge to guide you through the process, and to mitigate the situation.

If a person is charged with a crime in Wisconsin, he or she will enter into one of two possible criminal justice systems:

1.      The state system is divided into and organized by county. Each county has a courthouse and district attorney’s office, for example, the Milwaukee County Courthouse and District Attorney’s Office. People accused of violating a state law are prosecuted in the state court system. The vast majority of criminal cases are litigated in state courts.

2.      The federal system, which is divided into two districts in Wisconsin, the Eastern District, with courthouses in Milwaukee and Green Bay, and the Western District, with a courthouse in Madison. People accused of violating a federal law are prosecuted in this system. Federal cases are prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice/United States Attorneys.

If you are arrested or charged with violating a criminal law, the case is taken for an initial appearance before a court commissioner or magistrate who advises the accused of the formal charge and potential penalties, and sets bond for future appearances in court. The bond may be a secured bond, where cash or property must be posted for release, or unsecured, requiring no cash or property to be posted for release. If the defendant cannot post a secured bond he may be incarcerated pending the next appearance in court. If bond is posted or unsecured, he will remain free pending future court appearances. The initial appearance typically occurs within 72 hours of the arrest, or the first date available if arrest occurs on or near a weekend or holiday. Following an initial appearance, a series of court appearances will take place. The length of a case depends upon a number of factors, including the complexity of the issues presented, and whether the parties resolve the case pursuant to plea negotiations involving a guilty or no contest plea, or by a trial to a judge or jury.

There are also alternatives to standard prosecution in criminal cases available in most counties, which could result in a reduction of charges, dismissal of all charges, and/or avoidance of criminal charges altogether. These programs are typically referred to as diversion or deferred prosecution. Their intention is to divert deserving people out of the criminal justice system, and provide people with the help they need to address underlying issues that led to their criminal conduct and to help ensure they do not re-offend. These alternatives are typically limited to non-violent offenders, with little or no criminal record. A good criminal defense attorney will analyze each client and case individually to determine whether to pursue one of these alternatives with the prosecutor.

Criminal defense attorneys typically structure their fees in one of two ways. Some charge a flat fee, due up front, and which includes representation through a certain point in the case. For example, a fee of $2,500 may be charged on a misdemeanor offense, and that fee would include all work on a case up to a jury trial, if one becomes necessary. If the case proceeds to jury trial, a separate fee would be charged. The second common type of fee structure is for attorneys to charge at an hourly rate for their work on the case. Fee agreements must be communicated to the client in writing.

No one ever wants to be in a situation where they need a criminal defense attorney, however if you or someone that you know is contacted by the police or charged with a crime, our panel of criminal defense attorneys can help.