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.
Step One: Arraignment
Following an arrest or a citation 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 or 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 you can post your bond.
Step Two: Pre-Trial Conference
This is the stage at which you or your attorney begins to engage 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 be set for trial.
Step Three (Option 1): Plea
If an agreeable resolution to the matter is reached at the initial 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 Three (Option 2): Trial
If an agreeable resolution to the matter is not reached at the pre-trial stage, then your case will likely be set for trial. There is always a possibility that plea negotiations can continue between the pre-trial 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 misdemeanor level, would consist of 6 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.
Midland Michigan criminal, divorce and family law attorney Courtney L. Thom provides experienced and caring representation to clients throughout Mid-Michigan.