In a recent OWI 1st case in La Crosse County, I was hired after the individual attended the initial appearance and pretrial conference. At the initial appearance, the judge asked him/her whether he/she wanted to speak with the La Crosse County DA's attorney about a plea offer. When he/she said "yes", the judge entered his/her plea for him/her, which he/she did not catch or understand. He/she was then ordered to speak with the DA, but not until after the 10-day period. I was retained after the pretrial conference, and I immediately filed a request for a jury trial and paid the fee. A jury trial was scheduled. However, this resulted in the La Crosse County Assistant DA filing a motion to strike the jury trial on the grounds that it had been waived because the request and fees were not filed and paid within 10 days.
The DA's motion was denied, but not for the reasons you might think. In researching the issue, I found that the statute that deals with initial appearances in forfeiture cases requires some things: Wis. Stat. section 345.43 (1) states: "The defendant shall be informed of his or her right to a jury trial in circuit court on payment of fees required by s. 345.43 (1) . " Further, Wis. Stat. section 345.43 (1) states: "If the defendant appears in response to a citation . . . the defendant shall be informed that he or she is entitled to a jury trial and then asked whether he or she wishes presently to plead, or whether he or she wishes a continuance. If the defendant wishes to plead, the defendant may plead guilty, not guilty or no contest."
I obtained a transcript of the initial appearance. The transcript showed that the audience members at the initial appearance were warned they must request a jury trial. (Arguably, that should have carried the day for my client, because there was no way to prove my client was present at that time, and he/she was not personally told that or asked whether it had been heard.) However, the transcript clearly showed that no one was asked whether they wished to have a continuance. City of Madison v. Donohoo, 118 Wis.2d 646, 652-53 (Wis. 1984), I further discovered, makes that was mandatory. The Judge hearing the DA's motion ruled that this was a defect at the initial appearance, and he denied the motion. Furthermore, at every initial appearance to since, the Judge now
specifically informs the audience members that they may request a continuance before entering a plea.
Before this fiasco, if you asked for a continuance in La Crosse County Traffic Court, the Judge would usually enter your plea for you and tell you to come back after meeting with the DA. If you came back later and asked for a jury trial, it was "too bad", you only get a court trial. Now, when you attend the initial appearance in a forfeiture case, you can ask for a continuance before entering a plea. That is the key. Because, if you enter the plea, or let the judge do it for you, and don't file the request or the jury fee within 10 days, the DA will be fighting to prevent you from having your jury trial.
There is a lot to be learned from this situation, not the least of which is get an attorney before you do harm to your case. At Dyer Law Firm, LLC, we will find a way to get to get results. While doing so, we may even expand the rights of everyone else.