Judges and Substitution in Wisconsin Criminal Cases

How a Judge is Assigned

Most counties in Wisconsin have more than one judge, and the larger a county is, the greater number of judges it has. For example, Dane County has seventeen different judges who typically handle specific types of cases, like juvenile, criminal, or civil cases. Counties may differ in how a case is assigned, whether it is assigned to a judge who oversees a particular area of law, or a judge may have a case assigned due to being on a rotating intake schedule.

How A Judge Can Effect Your Case

When you are initially charged with in a criminal case, one of the things your defense attorney will consider is whether or not the assigned judge is favorable to your case. Just like basketball players, teachers, and doctors, different judges have different styles. One example of this would be a judge’s reputation on ruling on certain types of motions. Depending on your type of case, a judge’s tendency to rule a certain way on these types of issues could be beneficial or detrimental to your case. Another factor to consider is the judge’s history. What area of law did they practice before coming on the bench? If it was criminal law, are they a former defense attorney or prosecutor? If they were a prosecutor, did they have a specific area of emphasis? Your attorney may also consider a judge’s reputation on sentencing. The fact of the matter is that some judges have a reputation for sentencing defendants more harshly than others.

Substitution of A Judge

What is the substitution of a judge? It is a legal procedure that allows the assigned judge to be removed from the case, and another judge to be assigned. A defendant always has this right, however there is a specific process that must be followed within a certain procedural time frame. If you wait too long, you lose the ability to request a different judge. A motion requesting the substitution of the judge is filed with the clerk of court, the prosecutor, and with the judge, and this will trigger the removal of the judge from the case. The defendant does not have the right to choose who the new judge will be. In larger counties it will typically be another judge from that county, but in those that are more rural, a judge from a different county may be assigned. Again, it is important to note that a defendant does not have the ability to request the substitution of a judge at any time. A motion requesting the substitution of a judge must be filed at the beginning of a case, before the defendant is arraigned in a felony case. In a misdemeanor criminal case in Wisconsin, a defendant must do it before the originally assigned judge makes any substantive rulings.

Filing a motion for the substitution of a judge is not a matter to be taken lightly, and there are many factors to consider. Because this decision is so time sensitive, and an informed decision requires extensive knowledge of the judge and the county in question, a defendant needs to make this decision with defense counsel. The judge will essentially make all important rulings in a case, and in the event of a plea deal or conviction, will make the sentencing determination. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Wisconsin, contact the Wisconsin criminal defense attorneys at Nicholson & Gansner, S.C. for a free consultation.