What are Wisconsin Criminal Court Records?
Wisconsin criminal court records are any material connected with a criminal case that the court maintains. It could be court papers, notices, orders, exhibits, documents, information, photographs, transcripts, wiretap records, oral or electronic interceptions, and other related records on a criminal case. The clerks of courts in Wisconsin maintain these records and make them available to the public for viewing.
Understanding the Wisconsin Criminal Court System
The Wisconsin court system consists of four levels of courts, namely the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Circuit Court, and Municipal Court. The state also plays host to federal district courts which hear selected cases pertaining to federal crimes.
The Supreme Court
Made up of seven justices, the Supreme Court in Wisconsin is the highest court in the state and helps in formulating laws that guide all the courts in Wisconsin. It also has administrative authority over the courts. The Court selects the appeal cases it will review based on established rules defined in the Wisconsin statutes. It also has the jurisdiction to hear original cases after reviewing the petitions. Court records for cases filed at this level are maintained by the court clerk.
Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals in Wisconsin is an intermediate appellate court. It has courts in four districts, namely, Milwaukee, Madison, Waukesha, and Wausau. The court screens each appeal case it receives and directs it to the appropriate destination for the decision making process. A case can be routed for:
- Summary disposition
- Submission of briefs (excluding oral arguments)
- Oral argument
- Consideration or consolidation
- Supreme Court Certification
The presiding judge sets up the screening process with other panel members in attendance. Together, they decide which cases should receive the above attention after reviewing their briefs and records. The panel has the right to dispose of cases summarily. The clerk of the Supreme Court is also the clerk of the Court of Appeals. He or she handles responsibilities delegated by law or the Chief Justice, and this includes filing and eFiling of court records.
Wisconsin circuit courts serve as the state’s single-level trial courts. They have original jurisdiction to hear and decide on all criminal cases (misdemeanors and felonies) in the state. Circuit courts also have appellate jurisdiction to hear appeal cases from the municipal courts.
Municipal Courts handle cases related to juvenile offenses such as drug offenses, underage drinking, truancy, and curfew violations. They also handle ordinance violations, which involve traffic, health code violations, parking, trespassing, first-time offense drunk driving, disorderly conduct, and so on. There are about 237 municipal courts and 240 municipal judges. Most times, several municipalities come together to form one municipal court. And those eligible to vote among them will elect a Municipal Judge who will serve for a term of four years.
What’s included in a Criminal Court Record?
The information contained in criminal court records varies according to the crime and how it ends. Most records generally include:
- Arrest warrant
- Violation complaint
- Transaction sheet
- Documents that demonstrate the character of the accused—e.g. incarceration information or inmate records.
- Probation orders
- Youth offender document
- Drug education program document
- Alcohol education program document
- Final dispositions
Obtaining Criminal Court Records
Obtaining criminal records in Wisconsin is a straightforward process. However, interested individuals must have the right information needed to conduct a search. Inspecting or viewing public records carries no cost, but making copies come with a charge. Most records are readily available to view, but some older files turned microfilm will take about 7–10 business days to process. Requests are made through the court clerk’s offices.
Note: Members of the public are only permitted to view or make copies of records. Removal of the records or opening any sealed envelopes is not permitted.
How Do I Access Wisconsin Criminal Court Records in Person?
Accessing criminal court records in person provides an effective way of obtaining in-depth information about a criminal case. It allows interested parties to view or make copies of larger portions of the case file, unlike the snippets records online provide. To assess Wisconsin criminal court records in person, visit the clerk of the court office where the case was heard. Sometimes the clerk may store the record as a paper file or electronically. If it’s stored in a paper file, it will take some time for the clerk to retrieve and make it available for viewing. But if stored electronically, there is a public access terminal where interested parties can view it. Information to know before visiting the Clerk’s office include:
- Case number
- First and last name of the defendant
- Date of birth of the defendant
Requests that are too broad or requests that do not contain enough information to assist the search may result in an additional search fee.
How Do I Find Wisconsin Criminal Court Records by Mail?
To obtain criminal court records in Wisconsin by mail, interested parties will have to write a request and send it to the court where the case was heard and filed. The clerk will require specific information to find the right case file, such as the case number or personal information (first name, last name, and date of birth) of one of the parties to the lawsuit. Phone numbers, envelope stamp, and the specific document being searched should also be included.
How to Find Wisconsin Criminal Court Records Online?
Individuals looking for criminal court records of cases held in circuit courts in Wisconsin can access them by visiting the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (WCCA) website. Note that the WCCA is different from CCAP (Consolidated Court Automation Programs), which is a case management system not found online. The clerks of court for each county in Wisconsin enter information into the CCPA, which then reflects on WCCA. The website can display criminal misdemeanor cases of 20 years and felony cases of 50 years (class A felony for 75 years). Charges that were finally dismissed or acquitted can only stay for two years, depending on what the clerk of court has retained. Online records typically contain case summaries, which may include:
- Names of both parties of the case
- A sparse court record
- Description of the criminal case
- Court official working on the case
- Indication of pending or completed case
The court record displayed online is arranged according to the date, filed documents, events surrounding the pending case, and for completed matters, the disposition. The summary will also include information on the charges of the defendant and the outcome, which could be having the charges dismissed, or the defendant convicted or acquitted.
Images of the filed document are not put up for display on the website. The clerk of court can only draw the searcher’s attention to the availability of the material submitted or describe it in writing. These documents are only viewable when checking for the records in person.
Note: Within online records, the clerk might decide to add notes about the testimony or include the people present at the court hearing. Note that these notes are not officially part of the record.
How to Obtain Wisconsin Municipal Court Records
Criminal court records of cases filed at Wisconsin municipal courts may be obtained through their various websites. For instance, the city of Wisconsin municipal court maintains an online platform that provides court case information. Information needed for a successful search includes any of the following:
- Case number
- Citation number
- Defendant name
- Violation location
Note that the address of the defendant will not be added to the record online. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals took this decision.
Publicly available records are accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:
- The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
- The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name
Third-party sites are not government-sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels
Are all Wisconsin Criminal Court Records Public?
Not all criminal court records are accessible by the public. Juvenile records, as well as expunged records, are restricted from public view.
Can I Access Sealed Criminal Court Records?
Sealed criminal court records are generally inaccessible to the public except in instances where the court grants access.
Are Juvenile Criminal Records Open to the Public?
Juvenile criminal court records in Wisconsin are confidential records, which means they are not available to the public for viewing. This confidentiality is for record for offenders from the age of 16 and below. And 15 and below for traffic violation offenses. However, certain individuals can view the records if they complete a request for its release, and the juvenile court judge approves after reviewing it. Petitions are filed with the juvenile court. The Juvenile division charges a statutory fee of $1.25 per page for copies of the records. Copies with stamps cost an additional $5.00 (for each document).
What Records are Automatically Sealed by Wisconsin Statute?
Juvenile criminal court records are automatically sealed in Wisconsin if the defendant is 16 years and under. All other records are accessible to the public except they request for an expungement. The court can only approve an expungement if:
- The crime got a sentence of six years or less
- The individual completed the jail terms successfully
Individuals will need to request an expungement while they are still serving their sentences. The court retains the right to approve or ignore the request.
Are Trial Transcripts Open to the Public?
Transcripts are detailed court records that include a record of all that happened during a particular court procession. Trial transcripts are open and available to the public. Members of the public can obtain records by contacting the official court reporter assigned to the court during the case hearing.