Wisconsin Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences

Felonies in Wisconsin are crimes punishable by incarceration in state prison.

By , Attorney

Wisconsin law defines a felony as any crime punishable by time in state prison. A felony sentence can range anywhere from one year to life in prison. Misdemeanors (less serious crimes) are punishable by county or local jail terms of less than one year.

The actual sentence handed down for a felony conviction will depend on many factors, including the available penalties for the crime, the circumstances of the crime, and the defendant's past criminal record. To help make sense of sentencing, this article will review felony classifications, penalties, sentencing, and release options in Wisconsin.

Felony Classifications and Penalties in Wisconsin

Wisconsin divides felony crimes into nine classifications—Class A to Class I. Class A felonies carry the harshest penalties and Class I felonies the least. Below are the maximum sentences allowed and examples of crimes for each classification.

Class A felonies are the most serious types of crimes in Wisconsin, punishable by life imprisonment. First-degree murder and treason are examples of Class A felonies.

Class B felonies are punishable by up to 60 years' imprisonment. First-degree sexual intercourse with a child younger than 13 and sexual assault are Class B felonies.

Class C felonies are punishable by up to 40 years' imprisonment and up to $100,000 in fines. Armed robbery, mayhem, and sexual exploitation of a child are Class C felonies.

Class D felonies are punishable by up to 25 years' imprisonment and up to $100,000 in fines. Possession of child pornography and hit-and-run resulting in death are Class D felonies.

Class E felonies are punishable by up to 15 years' imprisonment and up to $50,000 in fines. Examples of Class E felonies include carjacking (by force) and aggravated burglary.

Class F felonies are punishable by up to 12.5 years' imprisonment and up to $25,000 in fines. Examples of Class F felonies include sedition and theft over $100,000.

Class G felonies are punishable by up to 10 years' imprisonment and up to $25,000 in fines. Negligent vehicular homicide and straw purchasing of firearms are examples of Class G felonies.

Class H felonies are punishable by up to 6 years' imprisonment and up to $10,000 in fines. Examples of Class H felonies include strangulation, extortion, and intentional violation of a no-contact order.

Class I felonies are punishable by up to 3.5 years' imprisonment and up to $10,000 in fines. Fleeing police, aggravated battery, and invasion of privacy are Class I felonies.

Felony Sentencing Enhancements in Wisconsin

The above classifications are just the start when determining what the overall punishment can be. Wisconsin law imposes sentencing enhancements for certain offenders who commit repeat or violent felonies. Penalty enhancers work in different ways. Some increase the maximum total sentence allowed. Others impose mandatory minimum sentences or prohibit probation. For serious sex offenders, a court may impose also lifetime supervision.

Habitual Criminality or Repeaters

Wisconsin law allows judges to increase the maximum sentence for certain repeat offenders. Someone considered a "repeater" (as defined in law) could have their maximum sentence increased by a set amount, such as 2 or 10 years. For instance, the maximum sentence for a Class G felony is 10 years. But if an enhancement applies, the maximum may increase to say 12 or 20 years.

Special sentencing enhancements apply to repeat domestic abuse offenses, offenses committed against elderly persons, hate crimes, crimes involving weapons, and violent crimes committed in a school zone.

The length of an increased penalty depends on the specifics of the current and past offenses. The harshest repeat offender penalties are Wisconsin's two strikes and three strikes laws for repeat child sex offenders and serious repeat felony offenders. Both require life sentences without parole.

Mandatory Minimums

Mandatory minimum sentences apply to a long list of offenses, including child sex offenses, repeat serious sex crimes, repeat violent crimes, and repeat firearm crimes. Depending on the offense, the law might dictate the minimum prison sentence, prohibit probation, or restrict eligibility for extended supervision. (More on extended supervision below.)

Take the Class G felony example again. A judge may normally order any sentence up to the 10-year maximum, which could range anywhere from 1 to 10 years. But if the law imposes a minimum 5-year sentence, the judge couldn't hand down a 2-year or 4-year sentence, for instance. The judge must sentence the defendant somewhere between 5 and 10 years and couldn't go lower.

How Felony Sentencing Works in Wisconsin

Wisconsin judges must impose what are called bifurcated sentences for felony convictions. A bifurcated sentence simply means it has two parts—a maximum term of imprisonment (prison time) and a maximum term of extended supervision. Extended supervision is similar to supervised release or parole supervision in other states. It's a period of time the defendant is still under their sentence, but they serve that time in the community after serving their time behind bars.

Bifurcated Felony Sentence Terms

The two terms—imprisonment and extended supervision—add up to the maximum total sentence outlined above. Similar to the maximum total sentence, the law sets a maximum term for imprisonment and supervision, as follows.

Felony Class

Maximum Imprisonment Term

Maximum Extended Supervision Term

Maximum Total Sentence

A

Life

n/a

Life

B

40 years

20 years

60 years

C

25 years

15 years

40 years

D

15 years

10 years

25 years

E

10 years

5 years

15 years

F

7.5 years

5 years

12.5 years

G

5 years

5 years

10 years

H

3 years

3 years

6 years

I

18 months

2 years

3.5 years

These maximums can be overridden by the enhancements described above.

Felony Sentencing Example

Say a jury convicts an offender of a Class G felony. The judge can impose up to a 10-year sentence that consists of a maximum imprisonment term of 5 years and a maximum extended supervision term of 5 years.

For a first-time offender, the judge might impose a total sentence of 3 years, with 1 year spent in prison and 2 years on extended supervision. Another offender with a criminal history might receive a longer sentence, such as 7 years total with 4 years spent in prison followed by 3 years of supervision. Unless otherwise restricted, the judge can impose any combination that doesn't exceed 5 years' prison time and 5 years' extended supervision.

If a penalty enhancement applies, the judge may be restricted by a mandatory minimum sentence or may have the flexibility to impose a sentence above the 10-year maximum.

Felony Sentencing Considerations and Options

Judges look at many factors when making sentencing decisions, such as the circumstances of the crime, the defendant's criminal history, the impact on victims, and the defendant's remorse or lack thereof. The law also requires judges to consider aggravating and mitigating factors when making their sentencing decisions.

Some of the aggravating factors identified in statute include committing the crime for the benefit of a gang, wearing a bullet-proof vest, and targeting an elderly person or child. The law doesn't outline specific mitigating factors, but some examples could be an offender's young age, attempts at rehabilitation, or lack of a criminal history.

Felony Probation

Not all felony convictions lead to prison. Some offenders may qualify for felony probation where they serve all or part of their sentence supervised in the community. Those on probation must abide by the conditions set by the court to remain in the community. Conditions often include obeying all laws, reporting to a probation officer, remaining employed, and paying restitution (compensation to victims). If the probationer violates any conditions, the judge can modify probation terms or impose the prison sentence.

Correctional Programs

When sentencing someone to prison, the judge can indicate if a defendant qualifies for any correctional programs, such as challenge incarceration (boot camp) or a substance abuse program. If an offender participates and successfully completes the program, the judge may reduce the offender's prison term.

Prison and Extended Supervision (Release) in Wisconsin

Wisconsin's sentencing structure and release provisions allow little in the way of flexibility. Many offenders sent to prison will be required to serve their entire imprisonment term. Once an inmate completes the prison term, the inmate will be released on extended supervision in the community.

Prison Terms

Unlike many other states, Wisconsin doesn't allow inmates to earn credits to reduce their prison term for good behavior. For this reason, most offenders will serve their entire prison sentence term or an even longer prison term. Why longer? While the law doesn't permit a reduction in one's prison term, it does allow the term to be increased for disciplinary violations. An increase in the imprisonment term reduces an inmate's extended supervision term (so that the total sentence length doesn't change).

(A few options exist, such as medical release, that may allow an inmate to petition the court to reduce their time spent behind bars.)

Conditions of Extended Supervision

Once released on extended supervision, the offender must follow conditions similar to probation. A violation can mean a return to prison. Unlike many other states that allow correction officials to return offenders to prison for a violation, Wisconsin requires judges to make such decisions. The judge, however, cannot require an offender to serve time beyond their total maximum sentence.

Prison Release Example

Let's say a judge sentences a defendant to a total sentence of 8 years—4 years' imprisonment and 4 years' supervision. If the inmate receives disciplinary violations in prison, those violations could push back the inmate's extended supervision release date, requiring the inmate to spend say 5 years in prison and 3 years on supervision.

Extended supervision lasts the remainder of the inmate's sentence term. A violation could send the inmate back to prison, but the total sentence time always remains the same. Taking our 8-year prison sentence example—it doesn't matter how the sentence is served. When the prison time plus the supervision time adds up to the total sentence time (8 years), the sentence expires. That could happen by the inmate serving 4 years in prison and 4 on supervision or by serving 5 years in prison, 1 year on supervision, and 2 years back in prison for a violation.

The Value of Legal Assistance

Felony convictions have serious and lasting consequences, including prison, fines, and a criminal record. A felony criminal record can make it difficult (and sometimes impossible) to obtain a job, qualify for a professional license, or earn a degree. If you are charged with a crime, the best way to avoid a conviction is to work with a good criminal defense attorney. An experienced attorney can tell you what to expect in court and how best to protect your rights.

(Wis. Stat. §§ 939.50, .60, .615 to .645; 973.01, .017, .05, .09, .12, .15, .198, .20 (2022).)

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