Unlike certain traffic infractions, misdemeanor convictions appear on your criminal record. Misdemeanors often carry serious consequences, including imprisonment, fines, and probation. Just because felony convictions bear more substantial collateral penalties does not mean defendants should forgo their right to an Appleton misdemeanor defense lawyer.
A misdemeanor conviction now may result in increased penalties during future prosecutions or even designation as a sexual offender. Invoke your right to counsel and speak with a qualified Outagamie, Waupaca, and Calumet County criminal defense attorney at Hogan Eickhoff by calling (920) 450-9800 or contacting us online.
Understanding the Difference Between Misdemeanors and Felony Charges
Wisconsin Code § 939.60 defines felonies as any offense punishable by confinement in state prison and misdemeanors as all other crimes. This definition may mislead defendants. Misdemeanors are punishable with incarceration – just not state imprisonment. Instead, offenders convicted of a Wisconsin misdemeanor offense may serve time in county jail. Grand juries must indict felony defendants under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution; however, misdemeanor charges do not require this independent evidentiary review. Prosecutors may bring misdemeanor charges by filing a piece of information upon probable cause.
Common misdemeanor charges in Wisconsin include disorderly conduct (§ 947.01), intimidating witnesses and victims (§§ 940.42, 940.44), failing to report an ongoing assault to the police (§ 940.34), breaking into vehicles and lockboxes (§§ 943.11, 943.125), making threatening or sexually explicit phone calls (§ 947.012), public sex acts (§§ 944.15, 944.17), and possession of marijuana and spice (§ 961.41). Misdemeanors often underlay felonies. Even a slight difference in the facts, such as changes to drug weight calculations, may reduce felonies to misdemeanors or increase misdemeanors to felonies.
Direct Penalties for Appleton Misdemeanor Convictions
Wisconsin has three classes of misdemeanors – A, B, and C. Most misdemeanor offenses designate the specific punishment class. Misdemeanors without a listed penalty class default to the provisions of Wisc. Code § 939.61. The following direct penalties apply to misdemeanor convictions under Wisc. Code § 939.51:
- Class A Misdemeanor Up to 9 months imprisonments in county jail and/or a fine up to $10,000
- Class B Misdemeanor Up to 90 days imprisonment in county jail and/or a fine up to $1,000
- Class C Misdemeanor Up to 30 days imprisonment in county jail and/or a fine up to $500
- Unspecified State Misdemeanor Defaults to a Class C offense punishable by up to 30 days imprisonments and/or a fine up to $500
Penalties typically increase depending on an offender’s criminal history. For example, a first-time marijuana possession conviction is a misdemeanor, but a second conviction is a Class I felony. However, judges have the discretion to impose less than the maximum penalty listed for a Class A, B, or C misdemeanor offense.
Indirect and Collateral Consequences of a Wisconsin Misdemeanor Conviction
Judges have substantial discretion during criminal sentencing. Judges may order convicted offenders to attend drug and alcohol rehabilitation, perform community service, serve probation, register as sexual offenders, surrender their drivers’ licenses, and refrain from contacting certain persons. A single misdemeanor conviction may permit judges to strip offenders of many privileges, considerably altering their personal and professional lives.
In addition to any direct sentencing provisions, merely having a criminal record may result in:
- Harsher penalties for future offenses
- Disqualification from professional careers, including law, finance, nursing, and teaching
- Unfitness to serve as a police office, firefighter, or public servant
- Difficulties attending college and receiving financial aid
- Automatic ineligibility for many private jobs
- Child custody, visitation, and adoption disputes
- Ineligibility for U.S. permanent residency or citizenship
- Residency restrictions for sexual offenders
- Loss of firearms rights for violent and/or gun-related offense
- Denial of a business license and/or loan
Even misdemeanor convictions that do not result in imprisonment may carry harsh collateral consequences, especially crimes related to alcohol and drugs, reckless driving violations, and violent offenses. A qualified Appleton misdemeanor defense attorney may fight to have misdemeanor charges dismissed, reduced to ticketed offenses, or expunged.
Potential Defenses to Misdemeanors
A knowledgeable Oshkosh criminal defense lawyer may raise any number of defenses to Winnebago County misdemeanor charges. However, attorneys should consider the following useful arguments to defeat misdemeanor-level crimes.
Misdemeanors often act as lesser-included offenses to many felonies. Defendants may not be convicted of both a state felony and its lesser-included crimes. Further, anyone acquitted of Wisconsin felony charges may not be retried for a lesser-included misdemeanor offense. Prosecuting suspects in this way may violate the constitutional ban on double jeopardy.
Lack of Probable Cause
Prosecutors only need to file an information to bring misdemeanor charges. This process bypasses independent grand jury proceedings. Prosecutors need only state that probable cause exists to bring criminal misdemeanor charges against a defendant. Experienced attorneys may move to dismiss an information for lacking sufficient evidentiary support during pretrial proceedings. Defendants charged with misdemeanors may authorize their attorneys to defend against misdemeanor charges during pretrial proceedings. This means a Wisconsin criminal defense lawyer might get misdemeanor charges dismissed without the defendant having to appear.
Necessity & Duress
Offenders sometimes engage in unlawful behavior to prevent more serious crimes. For example, the accused may have broken into a friend’s car – a misdemeanor – to prevent his friend from driving while intoxicated – a felony. The law encourages citizens to prevent crimes when law enforcement cannot. When committing a misdemeanor was reasonably necessary to stop a more serious crime or prevent physical harm, defendants may claim the necessity defense. Similarly, a suspect under duress might defeat misdemeanor charges if the crime committed was less severe than the injury threatened.
These defenses may defeat misdemeanor charges or mitigate the overall sentence. Prosecutors might also reduce misdemeanor-level offenses to infractions after considering evidence of a strong legal defense.
Call Us Today to Schedule a Consultation with a Wisconsin Criminal Defense Lawyer
Many offenders regret not retaining an Appleton misdemeanor defense lawyer. Misdemeanors carry direct and collateral criminal penalties in Wisconsin. Avoiding a misdemeanor conviction now may save you from increased penalties in the future. Take advantage of your free, confidential Outagamie County criminal case review with Hogan Eickhoff’s knowledgeable misdemeanor lawyers by calling (920) 450-9800 or contacting us online for a free consultation.