Updated on February 5th, 2024 at 08:51 pm

For those unfamiliar with the criminal justice system, your first appearance in Court is intimidating. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is critical to start your case off on the right foot. What should you expect at your initial appearance?

The Initial Court Appearance consists of:

  • Judge informs Defendant of the charges and penalties he or she faces.
  • Defendant receives the formal charging document titled the “Criminal Complaint.”
  • Defendant enters a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest.
  • The Judge sets bail and bond conditions.

What Is The Difference Between Bail And Bond?

Bail is the monetary amount required to guarantee the Defendant’s future appearance in Court. Bond conditions are other conditions designed to protect the public during the pendency of the case. 

Read on for more information regarding what factors a judge considers in setting bail and bond and what to expect after your initial appearance.

Statutorily, if you are arrested for a criminal law violation, you are eligible for pretrial release under “reasonable conditions.” This release is tailored to make sure that you appear in court for future hearings, protect the public, and prevent you from intimidating witnesses.

A judge may only impose cash bail if he or she finds that there is a “reasonable basis to believe” that bail is required to assure that the Defendant appears at future court appearances.

Judges are instructed to consider whether the Defendant would appear at trial if released on a “signature” or personal recognizance bond. This type of bond does not require the Defendant to post any funds to be released pretrial.

Factors a Judge must consider when setting bail and bond, according to Wisconsin Statutes:

  1. Can Defendant post bail? If so, how much?
  2. What is Defendant accused of? What is the potential penalty?
  3. Did Defendant commit a violent act?
  4. Does Defendant have a criminal or juvenile record?
  5. Does Defendant have good character?
  6. Does Defendant reside locally?
  7. What is the strength of the case against Defendant?
  8. Is Defendant currently on probation or extended supervision?
  9. Does Defendant have any other pending cases?
  10. Has Defendant been bound over for trial?
  11. Has Defendant disobeyed bail/bond conditions in the past?

An experienced criminal defense attorney will conduct an extensive interview with his or her client prior to the initial appearance to make appropriate arguments regarding bail and bond. If the Court determines that bail is not appropriate, the Defendant is typically released on a signature bond.

What is a signature bond?

A signature bond is the Defendant’s written promise to return to Court in the future and abide by his or her bond conditions. A signature bond is also known as ROR – Released on own recognizance.

What happens if Defendant pleads guilty at initial appearance?

If the Defendant enters a guilty or no contest plea at the initial hearing, the Court will resolve the case at the initial appearance or schedule a sentencing hearing.

What happens if Defendant pleads not guilty at initial appearance?

If the Defendant pleads not guilty, the Court usually calendars a pretrial or status conference date, roughly a month later.

After the initial appearance, Defendant may request copies of the discovery materials possessed by the prosecution in a misdemeanor case. These materials usually include police reports, video, audio, and other evidence that the prosecuting attorney possesses. In a felony case, the Defendant must wait for the filing of the information.