Criminal Procedure – Initial Appearance

You received a misdemeanor citation summoning you to attend an initial appearance or have been charged with a felony and are in custody awaiting your initial appearance. Now what?  

The initial appearance is the first hearing in a criminal proceeding regardless if you have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony. Prior to or at the initial appearance you are provided with the criminal complaint, which is a charging document that lists the offenses for which you are charged and provides a narrative of the events that are alleged to have occurred. The judge or court commissioner will make sure that you understand the charges and, if the charges are misdemeanors, will ask for a plea of either guilty, not guilty or no contest. If the charges are felonies, the case would be scheduled for a preliminary hearing upon your request.

After a plea is entered or the case is scheduled for a preliminary hearing, the court will set bail, which are conditions of release to ensure future court appearances. In Wisconsin the court will either issue a signature bond or cash bond. If a signature bond is imposed, you need not post money to leave, but will be provided conditions for your follow while the case is pending. If the court orders a cash bond, you would remain in or be taken into custody until you post the ordered bond. In that case you will also be obligated to follow non-monetary conditions to also follow while the case is pending.