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Ann Arbor Criminal Attorney Insider Guide - The Who, What, Where and Why of the 15th District Court

The 15th District Court handles all cases from the City of Ann Arbor; if you’re charged with a crime or issued a ticket on the campus of the University of Michigan, while tailgating or inside Michigan Stadium, your court case will be handled at this courthouse. The Ann Arbor court has three judges and one magistrate, and you could have one of two different prosecutors.

The judges of the 15th District Court are Judge Elizabeth Hines, Judge Karen Valvo and Judge Joseph Burke; the magistrate is Tamara Garwood. Each judge is currently assigned a certain category of criminal case with some overlap; the assignments are always changing, but as of the publishing of this book, the current breakdown is the following.

Judge Hines is currently handling all domestic violence and assault cases, with some disorderly conducts, possession of marijuana, minor in possession, fake ID, retail fraud, urinating in public and other non-drunk driving misdemeanors.

Judge Valvo is handling the majority of non-drunk driving cases with the exception of the domestic violence and assault cases. If you’re charged with minor in possession, fake ID, disorderly conduct, possession of marijuana, retail fraud, urinating in public and other misdemeanors, it’s likely that you will be assigned Judge Valvo or Hines. Judge Valvo currently presides over the Veteran’s Court and the Mental Health Court.

Judge Burke is currently handling all drunk driving cases, along with presiding over the sobriety court, and does not currently preside over other criminal cases with the rare exception that he is covering another judge’s docket.

In addition to their responsibilities at the 15th District Court, all three judges also handle cases at the 14A-1 District Court for the preliminary examination/felony cases handled within Washtenaw County.

All three judges do a great job handling their dockets in an efficient and equitable manner. The court is very easy to work with in terms of rescheduling cases and going above and beyond to make sure that each case is handled with the proper care, which the client deserves.

As with the judges, the two prosecutors who handle cases at the 15th District Court are good to work with, and handle cases in a very fair manner for clients who deserve a certain result. If you’re charged with a misdemeanor in Ann Arbor, the prosecutor will either be the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office or the City of Ann Arbor. This distinction comes down to the type of offense that you’re charged with, your criminal history and the arresting police agency.

As a general rule, if you’re arrested or issued a ticket by the Michigan State Police, the University of Michigan Police Department or the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office, the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office will be the prosecutor. If you were arrested or issued a ticket by the Ann Arbor Police Department, your prosecutor will be the City of Ann Arbor.

In addition to the police agency, if you’re charged with domestic violence, repeat offense retail fraud, second offense drunk driving and most assault crimes, the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office with be the prosecutor. As stated earlier, any felony is handled by Washtenaw, and not the City of Ann Arbor. The Ann Arbor court is night and day with some other courts in Michigan, and if you had to pick a court to have a case, this would probably be the best court in Michigan.

When charged with a crime in Ann Arbor, you may be issued a ticket on the spot with 10-14 days to report to the courthouse, or a report is created and the police officer may tell you that the case will be sent to the prosecutor for review. This review could take a few days, weeks or months, but either way it’s time to hire an attorney, and begin a proactive plan from day one. Here are some additional rules of thumb:

#1 - If you’re charged with a drunk driving offense, your first court date will be with Judge Burke for an arraignment.

#2- If you’re charged with domestic violence, your first court date will be with Judge Hines for an arraignment.

#3 - If you’re charged with most other misdemeanors, your case may be assigned to Magistrate Tamara Garwood who will then send it either Judge Hines or Valvo.

An arraignment is a court date to hear your charges, and enter a plea or guilty or not guilty. If you plead guilty, you then have a criminal record for the crime you have been charged with without any “deal” in place. If you plead not-guilty, then you get a pretrial with one of the judges and one of the prosecutors. The prosecutor is NOT present at the arraignment, and it is simply a waste of time if you can avoid it.

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