Felony Criminal Defense Process In Michigan
This guide will touch on all of the Court Dates and types of Hearings that a Criminal Defendant will face when charged with a Felony in the State of Michigan.
Arraignment on Felony Charges in a Michigan District CourtAn Arraignment is the first Court Hearing in the judicial process. At this hearing there are multiple goals that the Court seeks to achieve. The first is that the Court notifies the Defendant of the crimes that the prosecutor has brought against them. The Judge or Magistrate will either read the criminal complaint along with maximum punishments or if represented by an experienced criminal defense attorney, he or she will waive the formal reading of the criminal complaint. At that point a plea of “not guilty” will be entered on the defendant’s behalf. The hearing then moves to the issuance of bond or bail. Every Defendant's goal at a bail hearing should be that of a personal bond, meaning that you do not have to post any money to be released from jail. After a bond is imposed and posted, the defendant is released from law enforcement custody and is required to appear at all of the hearings set by the District Court.
Probable Cause ConferenceAll felonies begin within a District Court in the State of Michigan. The Probable Cause Conference (PCC) is the first opportunity for your experienced criminal defense attorney to begin negotiations with the District Attorney or Prosecutor. A PCC hearing is conducted before a District Court Judge and must be scheduled within 14 days of the arraignment. MCL 766.4 provides a roadmap for the Probable Cause phase of a felony in District Court.
At a Probable Cause Conference, the accused’s criminal defense attorney and the District Attorney speak on numerous different subjects. The main ones being:
• Possible plea agreements
• Bail or bond compliance and petitioning for a bond modification if the defendant has not posted bail because of the high dollar amount set by the Magistrate.
• Discussions regarding procedural aspects of the case and evidence to be admitted at the Preliminary Examination.
Preliminary ExaminationPreliminary Examinations in Michigan District Courts are best described in MCL 766.4. A Preliminary Examination is best described as a mini trial. At this hearing, the prosecutor will be required to show that there is probable cause that the charged crime was committed and that it is more likely than not that the accused committed that crime. It is important to remember at this stage of the criminal proceedings; it is the prosecutor’s burden of proof. This means that the prosecutor through the evidence they present must show that probable cause exists. It is important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney at this hearing. This is because the accused’s criminal defense attorney will have an opportunity to cross-examine the prosecutions witnesses.
After the Preliminary Examination hearing the District Court Judge will make a ruling. He or she will either find that probable cause exists and will “bind over” the defendant to Circuit Court for Trial. If the District Court Judge determines that probable cause does not exist against the defendant, upon motion of the defendant’s criminal defense attorney, the charges will be dismissed. Often, some but not all charges are dismissed, and some charges are bound over for trial. Being bound over for trial at Circuit Court does not mean you have been convicted of a crime, nor does it mean that a trial will automatically take place. Being bound over for trial simply means that, there is probable cause that a crime was committed and that the accused is the person who committed it.
The defendant also has the ability to waive the Preliminary Examination and forgo having this hearing. This means that witnesses will not have to testify, and the prosecution does not have to meet their burden in open court. This is essentially consenting to binding the case over to Circuit Court for Trial. There are advantages and disadvantages of holding a preliminary examination or waiving your rights to a preliminary examination. Waiving any rights in the criminal justice system should only be done after careful consideration and review by an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Pre-Trial in the County Circuit CourtAfter a defendant is bound over to Circuit Court after a Preliminary Examination, a Pre-Trial Hearing is conducted in a Michigan Circuit Court. At a Pre-Trial an experienced criminal defense attorney will have the opportunity to address issues within the case with the prosecutor. At this hearing, potential motions to exclude or suppress evidence, motions to dismiss, or other motions will be discussed between the attorneys. Further, plea negotiations will be conducted. This will include ways to prevent a felony from entering onto the defendant’s criminal record or means of preventing any jail or prison time.
Pre-Trials are an important phase of the criminal justice process that requires the best representation by an experienced criminal defense attorney in Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne County. Every case is different and presents its own unique set of facts and circumstances. Having the right attorney present can mean all the difference.
Trial in a County Circuit CourtA felony trial in a Michigan Circuit Court is arguably the most important phase of the criminal justice process. Although the large majority of felony cases are resolved without a trial it is nevertheless important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney ready to try the case if necessary.
The 6th Amendment of the United States Constitution makes it a right for the criminal defendant to have a trial. There are two types of trials, either by judge or by jury. A jury trial is a trial conducted in front of 12 members of the community, who will decide your guilt or innocence after both the prosecution and the defendant through their experienced criminal attorney to offer evidence.
At a trial the burden of proof rests with the prosecution, much like at a Preliminary Examination. However, at a felony trial the burden of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt”. Reasonable doubt is the highest burden that the American justice system has. In short, reasonable doubt exists when a trier of fact (judge or jury) cannot say with fair certainty that a person is guilty, or a particular fact exists. Reasonable doubt is often defined as such doubt as would cause a reasonable person to hesitate before acting in a matter of importance.
There are many parts to a felony trial in the Circuit Courts of Macomb, Oakland, or Wayne County. An experienced criminal attorney will have the trial mapped out well before entering the courtroom for trial. The decision to proceed to trial is a difficult one, and that decision should not be taken lightly. The decision to proceed to trial is ultimately up to the client. It further should be done carefully after consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Resolving a case with a plea bargain or at trial both have risks, it is important to have the best representation at both phases to explain the consequences to allow for an informed decision regarding how to proceed with the case.
Sentencing PhaseIf you plead guilty or are found guilty of a felony you will be referred to the probation department in the County for which you are convicted. The probation department will conduct what is called a Pre-Sentence Investigation Report (PSI). Their goal is to gain background information from you regarding your employment history, family history, where you live, any substance abuse issues, prior crimes, and more personal information. Their goal is to attain enough information to make a recommendation for your sentence to the Judge.
On the sentencing date you will have the opportunity to review your PSI with your attorney and your attorney will make recommendations for sentence with the judge. The attorney is a great vehicle to achieve the best outcome. An experienced one will know the sentencing practices of the judge before you walk into the court room. An experienced attorney will also know how to navigate the sentencing and what to ask for to achieve the best possible result.
After the Judge hears from the probation department, reads the PSI, and listens to Defense Counsel and the Defendant, they will fashion a sentence. The sentence will be within the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines unless substantial and compelling reasons exist to go above and beyond the guidelines. From there if the defendant is placed on probation they will set an appointment with probation to meet and review the probation order. Then the defendant/probationer shall follow the probation order so that there are no violations of probation and at the end of the term there is a successful termination of probation. If the judge at sentencing chooses incarceration, that means the defendant is remanded to the County Jail or the Michigan Department of Corrections to serve the number of months or years that the judge indicated in the sentence. Incarceration is the unfortunate result of some crimes but it can be avoided in most circumstances by taking a proactive approach, especially if it is the defendant's first time in criminal legal trouble.