What is a municipal court?
Municipal Courts are created by the governing body of the municipality. In this case, by the Village of Clinton. They have exclusive jurisdiction over State Statute 755.045(1) actions involving violations of municipal ordinances, under which the penalty is a forfeiture. In other words, this court does not handle any criminal matters. Those matters would go to the Circuit Court in Janesville. We handle local issues that stem from breaking local ordinances. These could be a whole range of violations including but not limited to; truancy, public nuisance, animal control, peace and order, building code, and burning violations.
What is an "Initial Appearance"?
When a citation is issued it has a date to appear in court written on the citation. This is your initial appearance date. If your citation states "Apprearance Required - YES", you must come to court. If your citation states "Appearance Required - NO", you do not have to come to court. If you do not appear, you will be found guilty and given up to 60 days to pay your court fine.
What does the word "PLEA" mean?
At the initial appearance in court you are asked to make a plea. There are three options. Your plea may be: Guilty, Not Guilty, or No Contest.
What does the plea "GUILTY" mean?
If you plead GUILTY, it is an admission of guilt to the charge or charges against you.
What does the plea "NOT GUILTY" mean?
If you plead NOT GUILTY, it means that you feel you have some defense to the charge or believe it is incorrect. If you are in doubt as to which plea to enter, it is recommended that you plead Not Guilty. By doing so, it gives you the opportunity for a pretrial conference with the Village Attorney. Here you may explain the circumstances behind the citation and may come to a mutual agreement. If an agreement is reached, you would come back before the Judge (usually that same evening), the Village Attorney will make a recommendation of settlement to the Judge. The Judge has the right to accept the recommendation or deny it. If an agreement cannot be reached, the matter will be set for trial at a future date.
What does the plea "NO CONTEST" mean?
A plea of NO CONTEST means that you do not wish to contest the charge or charges against you. Although such a plea will result in your conviction, you will not be admitting any liability should there be a subsequent lawsuit filed in a Circuit Court for personal injury or property damage arising from the incident for which you were cited. An example of this would be a traffic accident. If you were the driver who was charged with failure to yield the right-of-way, a No Contest plea to this charge is not an admission of guilt, and could not be used against you in any lawsuit for damages arising from the accident.
Can I just pay the fine and not come to court?
It will tell you on your citation whether or not a court appearance is mandatory. If it is not mandatory, an appearance can be avoided by paying the forfeiture amount shown on the citation prior to the court date.
Can I get an extension to pay my fines?
Yes, but you must put your request in writing. Explain in a letter why you need the extension, how much time you need, and if you want to be put on a payment plan, how much you can afford to pay per week or month. This request must be made prior to your fine due date.
Who is present in the court room for court sessions?
The Judge, the Village Attorney, and the Court Clerk. Others present may be defendants, witnesses, citing officer, observers, or the press. Municipal Court is an open public court except for juvenile non-traffic cases. Juvenile cases will be held in a private session and are not open to the public.
Do I need an attorney if summoned to Municipal Court?
That is entirely up to you. You may choose to hire an attorney or you may represent yourself. The court will not provide you with an attorney. Although there are certain rules that must be followed, I realize most people have no experience in court. When you come to court, a Court Information sheet is provided explaining procedures. The Judge also gives an opening statement that explains these procedures. We encourage defendants to ask questions at anytime they don't understand something. In other words, you don't need to be an experienced defendant to make it through a court session. If you plead not guilty and choose to represent yourself at trial, a Trial Tips guide is available. Please do not be intimidated by a trial or its proceedings. It is your right to be heard, and this court will do everything possible to see that you are treated fairly.
Can I reschedule my court date?
Trial dates may not be rescheduled. Failure to appear for a trial results in a finding of GUILTY. Initial appearances, however, MAY be rescheduled one time as long as you call prior to your court date to reschedule and it is approved by the Clerk of Courts.
I missed my court date and really wanted to appear. Can I get it reopened?
To get a matter reopened, you must write a letter to the Judge explaining why you missed your court date and asking that it be reopened. The Judge makes the decision of approving or declining to reopen a case. The Judge may charge a reopening fee which will be in the range of $0 - $50, depending on how long after the court date we receive your letter and why you missed.
How do I prepare for a trial?
If you plead Not Guilty and go to trial, the following link will provide you a handout which explains the procedure and gives some tips on how to come prepared for the trial. You will find this handout attached as a document.
If I go to trial and lose, will I have to pay more?
It is a possibility. First, the Village Attorney may request payment for such things as witness fees ($7.00 per lay witness plus mileage allowance). The forfeiture amount on your citation is not the maximum forfeiture in most cases. The Judge has the authority to impose a higher forfeiture if he deems it appropriate. The forfeiture can also be lower. Finally, if you subpoena witnesses, you will not be reimbursed for these expenses even if you are found not guilty.
If I lose at a Municipal Court trial, can I appeal?
If you are found guilty after a trial, the judge will notify you of your appeal rights. The appeal must be filed within twenty (20) days after the Judge's decision and will be heard in the Rock County Circuit Court, either before a jury or a judge. You must file a written notice of appeal (this court has the forms) and pay an appeal fee.
How long is the Municipal Judge's term of office?