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The Wisconsin court system

Anyone charged with a crime in Wisconsin for the first time is likely unfamiliar with the court system in our state. To convict a defendant, prosecutors must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Criminal defense is the strategy by which either that doubt is created through presentation of evidence or another finding such as insanity or self-defense is established.

The Wisconsin Court system consists of 237 municipal courts. Judges presiding here handle traffic offenses, first-time drunk driving charges, disorderly conduct, underage drinking and similar matters. A judge decides the cases, but a first DUI defendant may request a jury trial in circuit court within 10 days of a first appearance.

Circuit courts are the state's trial courts, and 249 circuit court judges preside. Each county has at least one branch, except for six counties that share judges. The Supreme Court appoints a chief judge for each of 10 districts, and he or she is charged with supervising and directing administration of the district.

A plaintiff or a defendant who is dissatisfied with the disposition of a case in circuit court may be able to file an appeal with the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. These intermediate appellate courts, composed of 16 judges from four districts, function to correct errors that may have occurred in the lower court proceeding. Some lesser cases are decided by a single judge; others are heard by a panel of three judges. No testimony is given in these types of hearings. The lower court record and briefs are used, and oral argument is at the discretion of the judges.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is the state's highest court. Its seven justices sit in the capitol, and they decide which appeals it will hear. It may also preside over an original case. The Supreme Court has regulatory and administrative authority over all courts and law practice in the state.

Most criminal defense matters will be handled to their conclusions in the circuit courts. But wherever a proceeding is undertaken, knowledgeable representation is important to navigate the process and seek the best outcome.

Source: Wisconsin Court System, "About the courts" Oct. 02, 2014

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