Often when someone is facing a criminal charge it can be overwhelming and scary. There are a lot of questions and unknowns but, hopefully, with a basic idea of what the pretrial proceedings involved, some of these fears can be eliminated.
First, after being arrested, there will be a District Court arraignment. This will take place whether the charge is a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor is a less serious crime than a felony. In Michigan, a felony is a more serious crime that is punishable by more than one year in prison. At the arraignment a defendant will be advised of the charge(s) and the maximum penalty of each charge, as well as, constitutional rights, appointment of an attorney (if one has not already been retained), and any conditions of bond, should bond be set (which in almost all cases, it will be).
If charged with a misdemeanor, at the arraignment, the defendant will enter a plea to each charged offense: guilty, not guilty, or stand mute (the court treats this the same as a plea of not guilty). If a defendant pleads guilty or no contest (this means the defendant neither admits nor denies having committed the crime but accepts the punishment), the judge may sentence defendant right away or schedule a sentencing date.
Second, should the defendant plead not guilty, a pretrial conference is set. This is a meeting between the prosecutor and the defendant, plus his/her attorney in which the prosecutor may offer a plea bargain and a determination is made as to whether the case can be resolved without trial. If it is determined that the case cannot be resolved with a plea, a trial date will be set.
If charged with a felony, at the arraignment, the defendant does not enter a plea of guilt or innocence. A defendant is merely advised of his rights, as stated above, plus the right to a preliminary examination (a/k/a “prelim”) within 14 days of the arraignment. A defendant may also waive the right to the preliminary examination in which case the defendant will be bound over to Circuit Court immediately.
Next, at the preliminary examination, the prosecutor must present evidence, including witness testimony, to prove that there is probable cause to believe that the charged crime(s) were committed by the defendant. The point of this is that the prosecution is trying to provide enough evidence to bind the defendant over to Circuit Court for trial. This burden of proof is much less than that required of the prosecutor at trial. The defense can also present witnesses and cross-examine any of the prosecutor’s witnesses. After all evidence is presented, the court may either bind the defendant over to Circuit Court on the charge(s), bind defendant over to Circuit Court on different charge(s), reduce the charge(s) to misdemeanors for trial in district court, or dismiss the charges.
Should the defendant be bound over to Circuit Court, a second, Circuit Court arraignment will be held whereby the defendant, again, will be advised of constitutional rights but will now enter a formal plead (guilty, not guilty, or stand mute) to the charge(s). If the defendant pleads guilty the court will schedule a sentencing date.
Third, a pretrial conference is scheduled in Circuit Court. Like the pretrial in district court, this is a meeting between the prosecutor’s office and the defendant and his/her attorney to determine if the case will go to trial or can be resolved with a plea bargain, should one be offered. If the case cannot be resolved, trial will be scheduled.
Hopefully this brief overview of the proceedings that will take place before trial provides an idea of what should be expected at each stage. If you or someone you know is facing any criminal charges, ease your mind and contact the Law Office of Mattias Johnson.