Sczygelski & Pangburn Law Firm, LLC.

713 Washington Street     Manitowoc, WI  54220-4525
Phone
: (920) 682-9990     Fax: (920) 682-6371
Ralphwislaw@sbcglobal.net


POTENTIAL CRIMINAL AND TRAFFIC ISSUES AND TERMS


General Issues

Facing a serious criminal or traffic problem can be the absolute worst thing that has happened in your entire life.  The issues are complex, and the emotion can be overwhelming.  The resources of my firm are here to help you with legal technicalities and strategies that must be considered.  If you are a private client, the retainer you pay is typically a non-refundable earned flat fee, deposited in my firm’s general account for taking a case up to the point of trial.  If we go to trial, I will be asking for an additional retainer.  In addition, I wish that I could respond to every inquiry and telephone call personally, however, my staff is here to assist me in that regard.

Bail Hearing

Bail Hearings and Motions to Modify Bail can occur at many different times.  However, a significant change in a cash bail situation only occurs approximately 10-20% of the time.  

Initial Appearance (IA)

Client must appear.  
Misdemeanor cases: This is the opportunity to plead (i.e. Not Guilty).  
Felony cases: Questions of bail are dealt with, along with other simple issues, and some initial information is gathered. Subsequent dates are almost always set after the IA.  However, very little of substance usually occurs. Nevertheless, the client must be present.

Motion Hearing

Many potential Motions can be filed, but most cases do not involve much in the way of helpful Motions. Most defense Motions are denied by the courts, and they simply get in the way of a potentially favorable disposition or negotiation stance with the prosecution.  Most Motions which are dispositive of the case are generally unsuccessful, and are usually not a vital part of a particular case. A Suppression Motion in regard to a confession may be extremely important in a case.  However, such dispositive Motions are generally the exception.

Status Conference

Future court dates are set based upon the posture of the parties in potentially reaching a settlement or having to go to trial.  Most of the time, it is required for the client to appear, so the client should plan to appear unless told otherwise.

Plea Bargain

More than 90% of all criminal and traffic cases settle. However, I initially treat every case as though it is going to go to trial so that I am as prepared as possible.  A plea bargain is simply an agreement between the prosecution and the defense to enter into an agreement of some kind.  The plea bargain can sometimes be quite detailed, and other times rather open-ended.  However, the most important factor to realize about a plea bargain is that the judge is not necessarily bound by it.  Although judges generally follow plea bargains, exceptions occur every day.

Pretrial

Usually this is a meeting at which the DA and I meet informally to discuss your case. Ultimately, this conference is to try and decide if your case will be settled by an agreement before trial or if a trial is necessary.  As part of this process, the DA advises me as to what his recommendations will be.
Juvenile cases: The juvenile and/or the parents must also appear.
Felony cases:  In many serious cases, the client is required to appear.  
In some courts (Calumet County in particular), the Pretrial is referred to as a Jury Conference and the client must appear.  

Arraignment

In a felony case, this is where we plead “not guilty”.  The arraignment often occurs at the end of the Preliminary Hearing, and is usually a mere formality.

Plea Hearing

Client must appear.
You will be required either to advise the Judge if you wish to have a trial or if you will be entering into a plea agreement.  If it is a change of plea, often sentencing will occur at that time.  If a Presentence Investigation (PSI) Report has been ordered or we have reasons for needing more time, sentencing can be requested to occur at a different date.  Many judges have the Plea Hearing as the absolute cut off date for reaching a complicated amendment to the charges as a result of the plea.  Sometimes this rule is enforced, but oftentimes it is not.  Nevertheless, the judges’ practice in this respect should be considered carefully.  

Preliminary Hearing

Client must appear.
Occurs only in felony cases. This hearing is often considered a mini trial.  The DA usually has to bring in at least one witness to testify that a felony may have occurred, and that the defendant probably committed the felony.  Our right to cross examination is limited.  However, guilt or innocence is not decided; a decision to continue the proceedings is simply made.  This is called a bindover, which is a relic from the middle ages in which people were actually bound (tied up) before being taken to trial.  Nothing of that nature occurs at the end of Preliminary Hearings at this stage unless the client is already in custody at the County Jail or in prison as a result of a possible probation revocation.  

Trial/Jury Trial

Client must appear.
There are many factors which go into deciding whether to enter into a plea agreement or have a jury trial.  A jury trial involves all of the Constitutional and Statutory Rights that we as residents of this country and state are granted.  It is an extremely serious, expensive and complicated proceeding.  Going through a trial may require an additional retainer fee.

Sentencing Hearing

Client must appear.
Sentencing in most cases takes less than half an hour.  However, in complex cases, testimony is often received from potential victims, others involved in the person’s life, and family members.  The rules of evidence are extremely loose, so people can provide hearsay evidence, opinion evidence, speculative evidence, and general evidence regarding a person’s personality or reputation.  This can be both good and bad for a defendant.  At a close or complicated sentencing, I would often like to have family members or friends actually in court to testify, if possible.  I also like to bring in photographs of the defendant, school records, etc., if appropriate.  As stated above, it can be done at the Plea Hearing, or at a later date.

Appeals & Pardons

A person’s postconviction rights are usually a last gasp effort to mitigate the damage from a severe sentencing.  I almost never advise my clients to enter into a plea agreement only to have them wait for an appeal or pardon to clear their record.  This is rarely successful, and bad advice in almost every case.  The appellate process is rather long, expensive, and complicated.  The pardon process is even less successful than the appellate process.  The complexities of these issues are tremendously involved, and require more than this sheet to explain in detail.  


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