Carlo Esqueda

Clerk of Circuit Court and Register in Probate

Dane County Courthouse
Room 1000
215 S Hamilton St.
Madison, WI 53703
Map to the Courthouse

Phone: (608) 266-4311
Fax: (608) 267-8859
TTY: Call Wisconsin Relay 711

7:45 AM to 4:30 PM
Closed all County holidays

Customers should arrive in time to complete all business by 4:30 PM

All filings and requests through the mail require a self addressed stamped envelope to return incorrect and/or processed paperwork and receipts to you. Please ensure all required documents are properly notarized before filing with the court.

Frequently Asked Questions about Criminal & Traffic Court

Related Documents

Don't see your question listed?

Contact the Clerk of Courts office at the location above.

Q: What's the difference between criminal and civil courts?

Civil actions are noncriminal cases in which one private individual or business sues another to protect, enforce, or redress private or civil rights. A criminal case is the action or suit by a government to penalize a violation of the criminal laws. Both types of cases can be brought to the Dane County Circuit Courts for a decision and judgment.

Q: How do I find out information about my case?

Contact the Record Center in the Clerk of Courts office for copies of cases and files. Contact the Clerk of Courts Records Center in Room 1000 of the Dane County Courthouse, 215 S Hamilton St, Madison, WI, 53703 or call 266-4311 for information. Requests must be made in person, by mail or by FAX. Telephone requests will not be processed. There is a statutory charge of $1.25 per page for the copies.

A brief description of cases and index of records is contained in the WI Circuit Court Access database.

Q: What happens if you're charged with noncriminal offenses?

If you're charged with an ordinance or traffic offense that is not considered a criminal violation, you'll be given a citation. In most cases you won't be taken into custody. The citation will usually give you a choice of paying a fine or going to court. It will state a date for you to appear in court if you choose not to pay the fine.

Q: Which statutes deal with Criminal Laws?

Statutes 938-961 deal with the Criminal Code and Controlled Substances Act, while 967-980 deal with Criminal Procedure. There may be several other statutes that deal with criminal laws or procedure, such as evidence or other specific crimes. Look at the Statutes Table of Contents for more information on how Statutes are arranged.

Q: Where can I research my criminal case?

If you want to review your case file, go to the Records Center in room Room 1002 of the Dane County Courthouse. If you want to research the crimes with which you are charged, or investigate more information about your upcoming court date, such as reviewing the laws of evidence, or look into other areas of criminal law research, such as defenses or postconviction motions, visit a law library. There are three public law libraries in Madison. The Dane County Legal Resource Center is in room L1007 in the Courthouse. The WI State Law Library is located on the second floor at 120 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The UW Law Library is located in the law school on Bascom Hill off Park Street. Online, you may want to visit the legal topics section of the WI State Law Library's website.

Q: How is the dollar amount on my ticket determined?

The dollar amount written on your ticket is actually a combination of a forfeiture and numerous surcharges and fees. The forfeiture for an offense is a relatively small part of the total penalty that you must pay. For example, if you received a speeding citation, the minimum forfeiture for this offense is $30. In addition, Wisconsin law requires the citation to include other fees and surcharges totaling $145.30. The base forfeiture ($30) and fees and surcharges ($145.30) total $175.30. This is the amount that the officer is required to write on your ticket, if you were traveling 1-15 mph above a 55 mph or less legal limit (65 mph limit has a higher minimum). It is the minimum amount that you must pay for a speeding conviction in the above range.

Q: Why do I have to pay all these fees and surcharges?

The fees and surcharges that are added to your ticket are set by state statute. The legislature and the Governor have set the amount of these fees. These fees have increased drastically over the past ten years. The officer and the court must abide by state statutes. The officer and the court are not responsible for setting the amount of these fees and surcharges.

Q: Where do these fees go?

On a typical speeding ticket, the minimum ticket amount is broken down as follows:

  • Forfeiture: $30-Goes to the county; if it's a state charge, it's split 50-50 with the state
  • 23% Penalty Assessment:$7.80-Goes to the state for a law enforcement training fund
  • Court Costs: $25-The state gets $15, the county gets $10
  • Justice Information Fee: $21.50-Goes to the state for computer systems development (includes non-court systems)
  • Jail Assessment Fee: $10-Goes to the Sheriff's Office for jail expansion and maintenance
  • Drug Enforcement Assessment: $13.00-Goes to the state crime laboratory
  • Court Support Fee: $68-Goes to the state; a portion is returned to counties in block grants for court-related expenditures

Q: Where do I pay speeding or parking tickets?

Tickets issued by the county parking ramps have instructions on them about how payment is to be made. All other county-issued tickets are to be paid in the Clerk of Courts. City of Madison municipal violation tickets can be paid at Room 203, City-County Building. For City of Madison parking tickets and other fees, you can pay at a window at the Police Department (Ground floor, City County Building) or online at Contact the issuing agency (if not Madison or Dane County) for other payment or appearance information. All other hearing date information should be addressed to the Clerk of Courts, Dane County Courthouse Room 1000, (608) 266-4311.

Q: How do I contest a traffic ticket?

Some questions to consider are: What are your chances of success if you do contest it? How much will it cost you? Will you lose your driving privileges? You may wish to consult an attorney about these issues. If you decide to contest the citation, you're entitled to a trial. If the case is to be resolved in municipal court, a judge will decide the matter. If the case is to be resolved in Dane County Circuit Court, a judge or commissioner will resolve it, unless you immediately request a jury and pay the required fee by the hearing date.

Q: Can I sue someone in criminal court?

No. Bring criminal complaints to the police department or District Attorney's office. They will in turn choose to proceed or investigate your complaints.

Q: How do I complain about a police officer who I think harassed me?

Contact the department of the officer and ask to speak to someone about complaints. The department may have a specific official or office or form for such actions.

Q: How do I find a lawyer? What if I can't afford to hire a lawyer?

There are several ways for you to locate an attorney to assist you. One way is to call the WI State Bar Lawyer Referral and Information Service at (608) 257-4666. You could also search lawyer directories or the yellow pages. For more information, visit this topic on the WI State Law Library's Legal Topics page. If you are being charged with a crime, you may also contact the Office of the State Public Defender for representation at (608) 266-9150.

Q: Can I have my friend or relative represent me at my court hearing?

Unless your friend or relative is a licensed attorney for Wisconsin, representation by a friend or relative may constitute Unauthorized Practice of Law, an offense punishable by as much as $500 or a year in jail (according to WI Statute § 757.30(1)) or both.

Q: What's the general procedure for criminal cases?

In a nutshell, in either a misdemeanor or a felony case, you'll have an initial appearance. At this appearance, you'll be served with a criminal complaint that outlines the charge, the probable cause supporting the charge, and the penalty.

In a misdemeanor case, you'll also enter a plea at the initial appearance. If you plead "not guilty" to a misdemeanor, you'll be given a trial date.

For a felony, the next step is the preliminary hearing. At this hearing the prosecution must present enough evidence to convince the judge that you should stand trial for a felony offense. If it's decided that your case will go to trial, you then attend an arraignment. At the arraignment, the district attorney will serve you with formal charges for a particular felony. At this time, you must enter a plea.

This information is from the Wisconsin State Bar's Legal Q & A.

Q: What are the steps in a trial?

See WI Statute § 972.10 for the order of a jury trial, as well as more information about criminal trials. There is also an outline of a jury trial in the information for jurors on the WI Court System's website. Specifically, you may want to examine "Step 3: The Trial" for helpful information.

Q: What is the traffic points system?

Demerit points are assessed to drivers when convicted of a moving violation, beginning on the date of the violation. The courts send the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) Division of Motor Vehicles records of all convictions for moving traffic violations. Persons who hold a probationary license are assessed double points for the second and all subsequent points. When 12 or more demerit points are accumulated in one year, a suspension of the driver privilege is required, for a minimum of two months. Convictions remain on the driver records for five years from the date of conviction. However, alcohol related and some commercial violations remain on the record for 10 years to life. This information and much more can be found on the WisDOT web page about the traffic points system in Wisconsin.

Q: How do I get an occupational license?

Contact the WI Department of Motor Vehicles for application procedures. If you have been revoked as a habitual traffic offender (HTO), the circuit court in your county of residence must approve the issuance of your occupational license. Dane County provides a petition form. There is a filing fee of $40.00 for this process.

Q: What is a Victim Impact Panel?

Victim Impact Panels provide victims of OWI tragedies an opportunity to share their stories of pain and loss with OWI offenders. The goal of the Victim Impact Panel is not to blame or judge offenders in the audience, but to reach the audience on an emotional level…a level that courts, fines and jail may not be able to reach. Listening to the personal accounts of people who have lived to tell about the grief and despair that occurs "after a crash," can help drivers understand the dangers and consequences of driving after drinking. The ultimate goal of the Victim Impact Panel is to reduce the number of people killed or injured in alcohol related crashes.

Q: What is TAP (Treatment Alternative Program)?

TAP, Treatment Alternative Program, provides an alternative to incarceration for the nonassaultive correctional client and is based on the national model entitled "Treatment Alternatives to Street Crime." The program is a service of the Human Services Department of Dane County. TAP is a six-month voluntary program offering the services of screening to determine eligibility, treatment, as well as case management. Eligibility is based on the client's treatment needs, readiness for treatment and availability of appropriate services. The Criminal Justice System must formally agree with the plan before an eligible individual is admitted to the program. For more information about TAP, contact the Mental Health Center of Dane County at (608) 280-2651 or write to TAP at 710 John Nolen Drive, Madison, WI 53713.

Q: How do I expunge my record?

You may not be able to expunge your record. Wisconsin law allows a judge to "expunge" a case in only two situations, both involving youthful offenders:

  • Misdemeanors committed by a person under 25. If the judge ordered expunction upon successful completion of the sentence, the record can be expunged. See §973.015, Wis. Stats.
  • Adjudication of a juvenile delinquent. A juvenile who has been adjudged delinquent can, upon reaching age 17, petition the judge for expunction of the juvenile adjudication. See §938.355, Wis. Stats. However, WI Circuit Courts Access (WCCA) database does not display juvenile adjudications because they are not public records.

An expunged case is sealed by the clerk of court and is available to be viewed only with a court order. If the judge properly orders a case expunged, any reference to it will be removed from WCCA. A judge has no other authority or power to expunge cases, and there are no similar provisions for other types of cases.

Q: How do I complain about an attorney, judge, or commissioner?

The Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) investigates grievances about attorney misconduct. OLR provides instructions on how to file a grievance, outlines the grievance process, and explains under what circumstances you may learn whether other grievances have been filed or whether the attorney has been previously disciplined. Information about the OLR is on their website.

To complain about a court commissioner, read Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 75.06. Contact information for the chief judge may be found in the Circuit Court Administrative Districts directory. The Wisconsin Judicial Commission provides an online complaint form at this site.

To complain about a judge, contact the WI Judicial Commission. The Wisconsin Judicial Commission investigates allegations of judicial misconduct. They provide an online complaint form.

Q: How do I appeal a criminal case?

An appeal of a final circuit court judgment or order can be initiated with the Wisconsin Court of Appeals by filing a notice of appeal with the clerk of the circuit court for the county in which the judgment or order being appealed was entered. There is a filing fee of $195.00 payable to the Court of Appeals and a $15.00 transfer fee, made payable to the county transferring the record. You will need to familiarize yourself with the Rules of Appellate Procedure (WI Statutes Ch. 809). Appeals can be complicated, so may want to consult an attorney for legal advice. You may also consult "A Citizen's Guide to Filing an Appeal" for more information and sample forms.

Didn't find an answer to your question? Contact the Clerk of Courts at the location above or the Dane County Legal Resource Center at 266-6316.