Understanding Wisconsin Background Check Reports from the Department of Justice

This week a young client who works as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) emailed to tell me that the nursing home she worked for had reinstated her at work with back-pay. The problem was that the nursing home had misread the background check – or Wisconsin Department of Justice Crime Information Bureau Report – terminating her for answering ‘no’ when asked if she had any criminal convictions in the past year. She hadn’t – she got a retail theft ticket. This is a situation that we see too often here at Mastantuono & Coffee. The most significant problem is that reading the DOJ Crime Information Bureau Report (DOJ Report) is difficult for those who are not familiar with the criminal system.

The confusion in reading the DOJ Report appears to start with a basic misunderstanding of the criminal justice system. Municipal citations are not criminal charges, but are non-criminal civil ordinance violations. Criminal cases are categorized as misdemeanors, which are low level crimes, or felonies, which are high level crimes. When a police department makes an arrest, the officer has the discretion to issue citations or to send the case to the local district attorney’s office for criminal charges to be filed in circuit court.

Circuit court cases are identifiable in the DOJ Report by looking at the case number. The format of circuit court criminal case numbers is always the same: the year, CM/CF/CT, and the consecutively assigned numbers. CM = criminal misdemeanor; CF = criminal felony; CT = criminal traffic. For example, a criminal misdemeanor (CM) case filed would have a case number like this: 2014 CM 000078. As an aside, a criminal case may be resolved with a forfeiture, which is a non-criminal disposition.

Municipal citations are apparent on the DOJ Report from the case numbers, which do not follow the above circuit court format, and from the classification. The classification in a municipal citation is listed as “Charge Severity: Other,” which refers to the fact that it is not a misdemeanor or a felony.

Many times, the role of a criminal defense attorney is to educate others. The experienced attorneys at Mastantuono & Coffee can help you though a difficult situation – even an ordinance violation that your job misinterprets.


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