Posted on

What is the difference between a crime and an ordinance violation in Wisconsin?

Ordinance Violation or Criminal Offense?

In all counties, including Fond du Lac and Winnebago County, Wisconsin state law provides the answer to this question.  In Wisconsin, a statute numbered 939.12 explains in simple language the difference. A “crime” is defined as conduct that is prohibited by state law and that is punishable by a fine or imprisonment or both. A person can be sentenced directly to jail for a criminal conviction. Conduct that is punishable only by a forfeiture (fine) is not a crime. One thing to remember though is that sometimes a failure to pay a forfeiture or fine on an ordinance can still result in “sanctions”, including jail, for failure to pay those fines. However, jail is not a direct consequence of an ordinance violation.

As the definition above states, a crime is prohibited by “state” law. Ordinances are issued for conduct that is prohibited by a municipality, such as a city, town, village, or borough, which are a political subdivisions of the State of Wisconsin. These municipalities are local governments in a defined geographical area.   Often times municipal ordinances mimic or reference state law. The Wisconsin Law Library provides online access to nearly half of Wisconsin’s municipalities and counties that have made some or all of their ordinances available online (http://wilawlibrary.gov/topics/ordinances.php).