Michigan Criminal Court Process
In Michigan, the criminal court process is similar to that of other states. Generally speaking, it starts with an arrest and ends with sentencing. While most people are familiar with these two steps, the middle portion tends to be less well known. If you or a loved one have been charged with a crime, it is important to understand what might happen next. At DeBruin Law, our experienced Lansing criminal defense lawyers work with you every step of the way. We will use our experience navigating the court system to tell your side of the story and get your charges reduced or dismissed, if possible.
While the criminal court process is similar for all crimes, misdemeanors and felonies take slightly different routes. Recognizing these differences is essential to understanding possible consequences and choosing an effective defense strategy under Michigan criminal law.
When fighting a misdemeanor charge, you will have to attend an arraignment. This will be your initial appearance in front of a judge. Here, you will be able to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest if you desire. At this stage, entering a plea of guilty or no contest allows the judge to sentence you during the arraignment. Pleading guilty or no contest this early in the proceedings will almost always result in a softer sentence since you have made it clear that you do not wish to waste the court’s time. A pre-trial conference will be scheduled if you plead not guilty.
A pre-trial conference is an informal meeting between the prosecutors and your attorney. It is at this point that a plea bargain may be offered. In essence, a plea bargain involves you pleading guilty to a charge less severe than the one you were originally facing. Some see a plea bargain as working to everyone’s benefit: you get a charge and a sentence that is far less devastating while the prosecutor can count the case as a win.
If a plea deal is made, the defense and prosecution will arrange for a hearing, during which the judge hears the accused plead guilty for the record and then provides a sentence. If an agreement cannot be reached, the criminal court process moves on to pre-trial motions and continuances. It is at this point that your attorney can file motions, such as asking the court to label certain evidence as inadmissible or requesting to see arrest records. If more time is needed by either side, a continuance may be filed. A continuance is a way to delay a trial so that both sides are prepared.
With a misdemeanor case, it is possible to have either a trial or a jury trial. In most cases, the case will go to a trial with no jury. It is here that a judge will listen to arguments from both sides and then reach a verdict. Sentencing may occur that day or on a separate date.
Felony cases also have arraignments, but unlike misdemeanors, you are not allowed to enter a plea at this stage. The purpose of the initial arraignment in a felony case is to make you aware of your charges and to choose a date for a preliminary hearing.
The main purpose of a preliminary hearing is for the prosecution to convince the court that enough evidence exists to move the case forward. Here, prosecutors only need to show that probable cause exists. Attempting to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is reserved for later stages. Preliminary hearings are crucial, as they allow a skilled defense attorney to cross examine key witnesses and question the validity of evidence. The defense may also be able to get a case thrown out at this stage by proving that an arrest was made illegally.
If it is determined that there is probable cause, another arraignment will be held, this time in circuit court. Here, you will have another arraignment. Unlike the beginning of the process, this time you will have the opportunity to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. Afterward, a pre-trial conference will be held. It is at this point that the prosecution will try to convince you to take a plea bargain, which will lessen the severity of your charges and penalties in exchange for you pleading guilty. The prosecution would prefer to resolve your case with a plea bargain, as it avoids an expensive and time consuming trial.
Just like a misdemeanor case, a felony case will go through pre-trial continuances and motions, with both sides challenging evidence and other factors. After everything is said and done, your case will likely move on to a jury trial. This involves a jury of your peers determining your guilt and is typically used if you are facing more than half a year in prison. The steps of a trial include, but are not limited to:
- Beginning Statements: Each side will attempt to make a compelling statement as to why the accused is either guilty or innocent
- Presenting Evidence: Both sides present evidence to the jury to convince them of the innocence or guilt of the accused. This is usually the longest portion of the trial process
- Closing Arguments: Both sides summarize the evidence that was presented and attempt to convince the jury of the accused’s innocence or guilt one last time
- Jury Deliberates: After the judge has instructed the jury, they members of the jury convene to make their decision
- Verdict: The jury recommends a verdict to the judge, which is usually accepted. The judge may sentence at this time, but will usually set a future date to do so
Defending You in the Court of Law
With the complexity of the criminal court process, it is essential to hire an experienced Lansing criminal defense lawyer to represent your interests. At DeBruin Law, we will leave no stone unturned in determining which path is best for you. Whether it is taking an agreeable plea deal or going on to court to defend your innocence, our attorneys will stop at nothing to get your charges eliminated and keep your record clean. Call now at (517) 324-4303 to see how we can help.