The Difference Between Felonies Misdemeanors and Infractions in Wisconsin | CourtRecords.org
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Forfeitures, Misdemeanors and Felonies in Wisconsin

The numerous legal offenses in the State of Wisconsin can be classified into three major categories based on their severity: felonies, misdemeanors, and forfeitures. To further structure sentencing, the Wisconsin legislature further divides these three categories of crimes into classes based on the severity levels of certain offenses. Felonies are the most severe crimes with the most severe penalties, followed by misdemeanors, and then forfeiture violations which are mostly petty offenses. Summarily, Wisconsin crimes are tried on the basis of these categories.

What is a Felony in Wisconsin?

The Wisconsin criminal code describes a felony as a crime which is punishable by imprisonment (WI. Stat. § 939.60).. Violations that are excluded are misdemeanors and forfeitures. Felonies are the most grievous crimes in the state and penalties can range from a minimum of one year imprisonment to a life sentence depending on the crime and as prescribed by the state laws. Penalties may also include fines, probation, mandatory attendance in counseling or learning programs, or other sanctions given at the discretion of the court.

Wisconsin courts determine felony sentences based on the nature of the crime and the state’s code. However, penalties can also be influenced by circumstances like:

  • Age: Depending on the crime, juveniles may serve milder sentences compared to the sentences given to adult offenders (WI. Stat. § 938.183). There is also the possibility of reduced sentences after conviction depending on certain conditions.
  • Psychology: The mental health of offenders who commit felonies is taken into account doing court hearings and it may be a critical factor in sentencing (WI. Stat. § 971.15). For instance, offenders who have been convicted of committing a crime while being mentally ill can be sent to a mental facility instead of prison.
  • Criminal history: Wisconsin “three strikes” law allows for increased penalties for habitual criminals. Having committed prior crimes or being a repeated offender of a crime can increase sentences and jail time (WI. Stat. § 939.62). Conversely, being a first-time offender may serve in the favor of the convicted felon.
  • Mitigating circumstances: There are different other factors surrounding the circumstances around a crime. A mitigating circumstance is an extenuating circumstance that could lead to a more merciful sentence like reduced charges. For example, an offender could have been provoked (WI. Stat. § 939.44), be acting in self defense (WI. Stat. § 939.48), and so on.
  • Consequences of the crime: There are always consequences of a crime like financial, physical, or social damages. As a general law, the higher the consequences, the more severe the punishment may be.

Note: Wisconsin is one of the first states in the USA to abolish capital punishments i.e. death sentences.

Classes of Felonies in Wisconsin

Felonies in Wisconsin are categorized into nine classes (A to I) with Class A being the most grave and having the most severe punishments while Class I is the least severe felony category (WI. Stat. § 939.50).. Each class has set maximum penalty limits in terms of prison terms and fines. The classes of felonies with their penalties are:

  • Class A Felonies: Life in prison
  • Class B Felonies: Imprisonment not exceeding 60 years
  • Class C Felonies: Maximum jail term of 40 years, maximum fine of $100,000, or both
  • Class D Felonies: Maximum jail term of 25 years, maximum fine of $100,000, or both
  • Class E Felonies: Maximum jail term of 15 years, maximum fine of $50,000, or both
  • Class F Felonies: Maximum jail term of 12 years and 6 months, maximum fine of $25,000, or both
  • Class G Felonies: Maximum jail term of 10 years, maximum fine of $25,000, or both
  • Class H Felonies: Maximum jail term of 6 years, maximum fine of $10,000, or both
  • Class I Felonies: Maximum jail term of 3 years and 6 months, maximum fine of $10,000 or both

What are some examples of felonies in Wisconsin?

Examples of felonies in Wisconsin according to class include:

  • Class A Felony: First degree murder, first degree intentional homicide, etc.
  • Class B Felony: First degree sexual assault, second degree intentional homicide, aggravated arson.
  • Class C Felony: Possession of cocaine with the intent to sell (40 grams or more), arson, and OWI (operating while intoxicated) vehicular homicide (repeated offender).
  • Class D Felony: Second degree reckless homicide, hit and run (with fatality), possession of cocaine with intent to sell (15 to 40 grams), etc.
  • Class E Felony: Hit and run (which caused great bodily harm to the victim), aggravated battery (with intention and great bodily harm to the victim), possession of marijuana with intent to sell (10 kg. or more).
  • Class F Felony: OWI (with great bodily harm), first degree reckless endangerment, stalking with a weapon, public discharge of firearm, etc.
  • Class G Felony: Property theft (worth more than 10,000), second degree reckless endangerment, strangulation (second offense), etc.
  • Class H Felony: False imprisonment, property thefts ($5,000 to $10,000), illegal possession of weapons, felony bail jumping, strangulation, etc.
  • Class I Felony: Threatening stalking, aggravated battery (with substantial bodily harm), property theft ($2,500 to $5,000), and so on.

Note: A crime may fall under different categories. This may be due to the varying degrees, the financial cost of damages, or even the weight of substances, as seen in drug possession cases.

Can I get a Felony Removed from a Court Record in Wisconsin?

It is possible to remove fingerprint records of felony arrests that were not charged or cases that were found not guilty upon request to the law enforcement agency or Wisconsin Criminal History Repository (WI. Stat. § 165.84(1))..

However, there is no statutory provision for the judicial sealing or expungement of the entire arrest and court records of non-conviction cases like absence or dismissal of charges. This is because expungement only applies to convicted cases. Still, it may be possible to remove arrest records and record of dismissed charges from the CIB. It is also possible to remove records of dismissed charges from the CCAP after a minimum of 2 years after dismissal.

On the other hand, expunging a felony record of convicted persons from Wisconsin courts depends on a few factors as stated in the special disposition section of the Wisconsin statute. The terms for eligibility and qualification for expungement include:

  • The crime must be a non-violent felony of which the maximum jail term is 6 years or less. This means non-violent offenses that fall within the Class H and Class I category (with limitations) and as defined in WI. Stat. § 301.048 (2).
  • The individual must have been 25 years or less at the time the crime was committed or under 18 years at time of committing a sex-related invasion of privacy as defined in WI. Stat. § 942.08 (2) (b), (c), (d), or (3).
  • The individual must not have prior felony convictions.
  • Expungement requests should be made at the time of sentencing and determined at the discretion of the court.
  • If the court determines that expunging the defendant’s record, upon successful completion of the sentence, will benefit the individual and society will not be harmed by the disposition.
  • The sentence must be completed and all probation conditions satisfied.

As long as the court had ruled for possible expungement at the time of sentencing and all conditions were met, the expungement process does not require filing a petition. Expungement will be automatic once the detaining or probationary authority issues a certificate of discharge which is then to the court of record which shall then expunge the record.

Note: The records mentioned exclude those kept by the department of transportation as prescribed in WI. Stat. § 343.23 (2).

Is Expungement the same as Sealing Court Records in Wisconsin?

Yes, an expungement in Wisconsin is more or less the same as sealing a record. Once a record is expunged in Wisconsin, it is sealed or removed from circuit courts, but the same may not be the case for other legal departments or agencies. This is because the special disposition does not require law enforcement agencies or prosecutors to destroy records concerning an expunged conviction.

Therefore, although public access to the court record is basically restricted, the record still exists in other places like the Crime Information Bureau (CIB) or Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP). This means that records can still be accessed with the right conditions. It should also be noted that even with an expunged criminal record, previously convicted persons may still have to admit to having a criminal one. This may prove to affect an individual’s life after release.

Note: There is an Assembly bill that seeks to amend the Wisconsin expungement law by eliminating the age restriction and allowing petition for the expungement of certain criminal records.

How Long Does a Felony Stay on Your Record in Wisconsin?

A felony conviction may stay on an individual’s record forever if the individual had not been ruled to qualify for expungement at the time of sentencing. The same applies to those who were eligible for expungement but failed to meet all the conditions which may include:

  • Completing jail term
  • Not committing subsequent crimes after qualifying for expungement
  • Satisfying other probation conditions and non-revocation of probation

After fulfilling the expungement terms and the detaining or probationary authority forwards a copy of the discharge certificate to the court of record, the remainder of the expungement process is automatic or self-executing.

What is a Misdemeanor in Wisconsin?

The Wisconsin criminal code describes a misdemeanor as any crime which isn’t a felony i.e. which isn’t punishable by imprisonment (WI. Stat. § 939.60).. However, punishments of misdemeanors may include jail time not exceeding one year, fines, or probation decided at the discretion of the court and in accordance with state laws.

Misdemeanor violations are less serious and do not have as much consequence as felonies and so have lesser penalties. The Wisconsin court determines the penalties based on the nature of the violation and other factors like age of offender and/or victim, prior records, mental health, and other mitigating or aggravating circumstances.

Classes of Misdemeanors in Wisconsin

Misdemeanors in Wisconsin are divided into three classes (Class A to C) with Class A being the most severe. Each class of misdemeanors has penalties of fines, jail terms or both, as classified in the criminal code of the state (WI. Stat. § 939.51)..

The classes of misdemeanors with their penalties are:

  • Class A Misdemeanors: Maximum jail term of 9 months, maximum fine of $10,000, or both
  • Class B Misdemeanors: Maximum jail term of 90 days, maximum fine of $1,000, or both
  • Class C Misdemeanors: Maximum jail term of 30 days, maximum fine of $500, or both

Apart from these categories, there is an extra class of misdemeanors in Wisconsin called the unclassified misdemeanors or Class U. These are misdemeanors not classified under Class A, B or C but can also be punished by jail term and fines.

The Class U misdemeanor can be as grievous as Class A misdemeanors but can also be as small as Class C offenses. Therefore penalties or Class U offences may vary and are described in their statutes. If not described, jail term or fines must not exceed that of Class C misdemeanors i.e. maximum jail term of 30 days, maximum fine of $500, or both.

What are some examples of Misdemeanors in Wisconsin?

Examples of misdemeanors in Wisconsin according to class include:

  • Class A Misdemeanors: Battery, theft of property (less than $2,500), criminal damage to property.
  • Class B Misdemeanors: Participating in gambling, disorderly conduct, trespass in a medical facility, etc.
  • Class C Misdemeanors: These types of crimes are rare. Examples include vagrancy, possession of alcohol as a minor (second offense within 30 months), drawing indecent material in a public place, and so on.
  • Class U Misdemeanors: Drug possession, hunting violation, DUI (second or third offense), DUI with minor in the car, underage DUI, hit and run (with no injuries to victim), etc.

Can I Get a Misdemeanor Removed from a Record in Wisconsin?

The Wisconsin expungement law allows for individuals who committed non-violent misdemeanors before the age of 25 to be eligible for record expungement. However, this excludes traffic misdemeanor records maintained by the department of transportation (WI. Stat. § 343.23 (2))..

Other conditions for eligibility include:

  • Expungement requests should be made by the defendant and determined by the court at the time of sentencing.
  • The court decided that the individual and society will benefit from the expungement.
  • The individual must not have prior or subsequent convictions of violent crimes or felonies.
  • If the court determines that expunging the defendant’s record, upon successful completion of the sentence, will benefit the individual and society will not be harmed by the disposition.
  • The sentence must be completed, fines paid, and all probation conditions satisfied.

Once all the conditions are met and detaining or probationary authority issues a certificate of discharge, the expungement process will be automatic or self-executing.

Note: There is an Assembly bill that seeks to amend certain conditions in the Wisconsin expungement law and establish a new expungement process.

Can a DUI Be Expunged in Wisconsin?

No, there is no statutory provision for the judicial sealing or expungement of DUI or OWI records in Wisconsin. Therefore, a DUI conviction record can stay on an individual’s record for life since the Wisconsin statutes especially exclude records maintained by the department of transportation from the disposition of an expungement.

What constitutes a forfeiture violation in Wisconsin?

This is a violation of state ordinances that do not require any jail term or have no expressed penalties (WI. Stat. § 939.61).. Offenses under this category are not criminal but may result in penalties ranging from small or large fines, to surrender of properties like cars and buildings. Revenues from forfeitures are to be paid to the county or municipality where the violation was committed (WI. Stat. § 778.105)..

Note: Some felonies and misdemeanors may also be subject to forfeitures.

Classes of Forfeitures in Wisconsin

Forfeitures in Wisconsin are divided into five classes (Class A to E) with Class A having the highest fines (WI. Stat. § 939.52).. Penalties are decided by a public body but may be disputed in court although most people usually just pay the fine.

The classes of forfeitures with their penalties are:

  • Class A forfeiture: Fine or property forfeiture not exceeding $10,000.
  • Class B forfeiture: Fine or property forfeiture not exceeding $1,000.
  • Class C forfeiture: Fine or property forfeiture not exceeding $500.
  • Class D forfeiture: Fine or property forfeiture not exceeding $200.
  • Class E forfeiture: Fine or property forfeiture not exceeding $25.

Note: These amounts do not include court costs.

What are some examples of forfeitures in Wisconsin?

Examples of forfeiture violations include certain disorderly conduct like noise making, and first violation of status offenses like underage drinking or clubbing. Others include non-criminal traffic violations like equipment violations, failure to wear seatbelt, etcetera.

Can Forfeitures be Expunged from a Wisconsin Criminal Court Record?

No, there is no provision in the Wisconsin statutes for the expungement of either civil or traffic forfeiture violations. The special disposition section of the statute only applies to offenses that fall under felonies and misdemeanors.

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