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An Inside Look at Wisconsin’s Court System

Examining the Different Levels of Courts in WI

Wisconsin’s court system consists of four levels, all of which obtain different powers and responsibilities. When you’re facing criminal charges, it’s important to understand the functions of each level of Wisconsin’s court system so you can be prepared and educated. A criminal defense lawyer can explain in detail what type of court will hear your case and how it operates when handling cases like yours.

Learn about Wisconsin’s court system so you can get a better idea of what you may experience at each level. It’s in your best interests to contact our Milwaukee criminal defense lawyer to guide you through the unfamiliar, complex processes in the court system and fight for your freedom. Call (414) 882-8382 to begin your defense.

Municipal Courts

There are 237 municipal courts in the state, the largest one being in Milwaukee. Most municipal court cases include traffic, parking and ordinance matters, as well as juvenile matters. Examples include:

  • First offense drunk driving
  • Underage alcohol
  • Building code violations
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Trespass
  • Health code violations
  • Animal control violations
  • Truancy

Circuit Courts

Also known as the state’s trial courts, circuit courts are divided into branches with at least one in every county. Cases involving all civil and criminal matters within Wisconsin, including probate, juvenile, and traffic matters, as well as civil and criminal jury trials are handled in circuit courts.

Court of Appeals

A person who is not satisfied with the outcome of their case at the circuit court level may appeal a final judgment, and sometimes, a nonfinal judgment. The Court of Appeals is the state's intermediate appellate court that primarily operates to correct mistakes made at the circuit court level. It has a “law defining and law development function” according to the Supreme Court, meaning written decisions that are published may be cited as precedential authority. No testimonies take place at this level.

In Wisconsin’s Court of Appeals, a three-judge panel reviews an appeal. But a single judge decides the following cases:

  • Small claims actions
  • Municipal ordinance violations
  • Traffic regulation violations
  • Mental health, juvenile, contempt and misdemeanor cases

Supreme Court

The “court of last resort” is the state’s highest court and accepts roughly 100 to 120 cases every year. The Wisconsin Supreme Court consists of seven justices and has three primary functions:

  • Case deciding: The Supreme Court receives written arguments from all sides and schedules oral arguments. The goal is to enforce independent, open, fair and efficient resolutions.
  • Administrative: The Supreme Court administers the entire Wisconsin Court System. Its roles include, but aren’t limited to:
    • Budgeting
    • Information technology
    • Security and facilities management
    • Juror use and management
  • Regulatory: The Supreme Court regulates the legal profession and the Wisconsin judiciary, including judges’ conduct.

Ready to begin your defense? So are we. Contact (414) 882-8382 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for legal advice, guidance and support.