If you have found yourself facing criminal charges, this can be a very worrisome time in your life. Whether this is your first encounter with the criminal justice system or not, often just the fear of the unknown in these situations can cause a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety. Courtney Thom will not only help protect your rights, but can also help alleviate some of the anxiety you may be feeling simply by helping you better understand the procedural steps in a criminal case.
A felony is a criminal matter which is punishable by more than one year of incarceration. These matters are initiated at the district court level, they must ultimately be resolved at the circuit court level. While each case has its own unique set of circumstances, below are the general procedural steps followed in these matters.
Step One: Arraignment
Following an arrest for a criminal offense, your first appearance in court will be at an arraignment. During this hearing, the Judge (or Magistrate) will read you the charges against you, along with the maximum possible penalties. Whether you ultimately receive those penalties depends on a number of factors, which will be taken into consideration at a later time in your case. In order to ensure an opportunity to negotiate your case, whether on your own, or with the assistance of an attorney, you should plead “Not Guilty” or “stand mute” at this hearing when asked how you plea.
Next, the Judge will address the matter of bond. If you were arrested prior to the arraignment, you likely posted a bond in order to be released from jail. The Judge or Magistrate has the discretion to raise, lower, or simply continue that bond during the pendency of your case. If you were not arrested, or did not previously post a bond, this is the Court’s opportunity to set a bond in your case. If you are unable to the post the bond, you may be immediately remanded to the custody of the police until such time as bond can be posted.
Step Two: Preliminary Examination Hearing
When facing felony charges, you have a right to a preliminary hearing within 14 days of your arraignment. This is the mechanism by which the case will be bound over to the circuit court for resolution. At this hearing, the prosecution is required to present evidence in the case to showing probable cause to believe a crime was committed by you. The standard is low, compared to that which must be proven at trial, and is generally easy to meet. If the prosecutor meets their burden at this stage, your case will be bound over to circuit court for further proceedings.
You do have the option of waiving the requirement that the hearing be held within 14 days, or to waive this hearing altogether. If waived, the hearing will be automatically bound over to circuit court for further proceedings.
Step Three: Pre-trial
This is the stage at which you or your attorney engages in negotiations with the Prosecuting Attorney in order to determine if you case will be resolved without trial. If you are represented by an attorney, your attorney will meet with the prosecuting official and discuss your case. If you are unrepresented, you will have an opportunity to speak directly to the prosecuting official regarding your case. Should an agreement be reached which both parties see as a fair resolution to the case, you will move on to the Plea Stage. If no resolution can be reached, the case will ultimately be set for trial. If more investigation or information is necessary for either party, the case may be set for subsequent pre-trials prior to a trial date to determine if a resolution can be reached at that point.
Step Four (Option 1): Plea
If an agreeable resolution to the matter is reached at the pre-trial stage, the case will then move to a plea hearing. It is at this hearing the Judge will take your final plea. You will plead “Guilty” or “No Contest” (depending on your agreement with the prosecuting official) to the charges in the case as amended to reflect your agreement. By entering a guilty or no contest plea in the matter, you give up your right to a trial, and all the rights that come with a trial. Once entered, a plea can only be revoked under certain circumstances, and must be approved by the Court.
Step Four (Option 2): Trial
If an agreeable resolution to the matter is not reached at the pre-trial stage, then your case will be set for trial. There is always a possibility that plea negotiations can continue between the pre-trial stage and the trial date, however, there may be limitations on how close to your trial date the court will be willing to accept a plea.
You have the option to have your trial held before a judge or a jury, which, at the felony level, would consist of 12 people. At your trial, you have all the standard trial rights available to you, such as requiring the prosecuting official prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, having the opportunity to cross-examine their witnesses, calling witnesses on your behalf, and choosing whether or not to testify in your own defense. At the end of the trial, the jury or judge will determine whether the prosecutor has met their burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and find you either guilty or not guilty. If you are found not guilty, your case is concluded at this stage.
Step Five – Sentencing
Once a final plea is entered or you are found guilty at trial, you will be sentenced. Sentences are imposed by the Judge, and are held on a separate date from your plea or trial. Sentences in felony matters are based on the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines, as well as statutorily mandated punishments. You will meet with a probation officer for a pre-sentence investigation, which will then become part of the pre-sentence report sent to the Judge. This report will include the scoring of the sentencing guidelines in your case, which consist of a number of variables relating both to the offense, as well as your prior record. These guidelines will give the court a range of minimum sentencing possibilities, with the maximum penalty to be determined by statute.
Midland Michigan criminal, divorce and family law attorney Courtney L. Thom provides experienced and caring representation to clients throughout Mid-Michigan.