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Michigan Felony Case Stages and Court Procedure

In Michigan, felonies are the most serious crimes.  A felony conviction could lead to more than one year in prison, a criminal record, probation, fines and costs.  There are different classifications for Michigan felonies ranging from Class A Felonies to Class G Felonies. Class A Felonies are punishable by up to life in prison.  The penalties for any crime will also vary depending on whether it is your first, second or third offense. If you are facing felony charges, you want an attorney fighting for your rights.

The felony court process starts when you are charged with a criminal act, usually by an arrest, or open warrant.

Arraignment
The arraignment is your first appearance in court. If you have been arrested and are in custody, you will typically be arraigned within a day or two. If you learn that there is an open warrant for your arrest, you may turn yourself in, and will be subsequently arraigned.

During arraignment the judge or magistrate will read the formal charges that have been brought against you, as well as the possible penalties, and advise you of your constitutional rights.  Unlike a misdemeanor arraignment, you will not be able to enter a guilty plea at this time, thereby protecting your Constitutional right to fight the charges brought against you.  

The court will also set bond. Bond is typically a cash amount held by the court, allowing a defendant to remain free during the criminal proceedings, in exchange for the defendant’s promise to return to court on all scheduled court proceedings.  If the defendant fails to appear on a scheduled court date, they may be subject to immediate arrest, and any bond may be forfeited.

Bond amounts may be determined by the seriousness of the offense, the defendant's criminal record, the defendant’s potential danger to the community, and the defendant’s ties to the community, including family and employment.

In addition to setting bond, the judge may require drug and/or alcohol testing, which will continue throughout the course of the case.  In some courts, alcohol or drug testing may begin on the day of arraignment.

The judge will also schedule a date for the preliminary examination, which must be held within 14 days, unless the "14-day rule" is waived.  In some cases, a pre-exam conference will be held before the preliminary examination to determine whether or not the exam will be waived.

Preliminary Examination
The preliminary examination is a formal hearing in front of the judge to determine whether or not probable cause exists that you committed a crime in that jurisdiction.  While the usual standard in criminal procedures is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecution only has to show sufficient evidence during this exam.  Because of the low burden of proof, the judge almost always finds sufficient evidence to “bind” your case over to circuit court.  It is possible, however, that the judge may reduce or dismiss the charges at the preliminary examination phase.

Because preliminary exams are rarely case determinative, they are often waived.  However, preliminary examinations can be used to secure witness testimony that can later be impeached at trial, or as a way to learn more about the case.  Whether or not to waive the exam should be a key part of any good attorney’s trial strategy.

Circuit Court Arraignment

After the preliminary exam is held or waived, and the judge finds probable cause, the case will be transferred to Circuit Court for another arraignment.  The judge will once again read the formal charges.  Bond is typically continued, and a date is set for a pre-trial conference.

Pre-trial Conference and Proceedings
During this stage your attorney and the prosecutor may negotiate plea deals, address discovery issues, and prepare pre-trial motions.  The pre-trial phase may include motion and evidentiary hearings, adjournments, and other issues that need to be addressed as the case proceeds to trial.  Additionally, a favorable plea deal may be reached during this time.  

Trial
If your case has not been resolved in the pre-trial stage, you have the right to take your case to trial.  The trial may be in front of a judge, or in front of a jury.  At trial, the prosecutor has the burden of proof, and they must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the alleged crime.  

The court process can be very overwhelming and confusing.  If you have been charged with a crime, you want an attorney in your corner.  Call the Law Offices of Rachel M. Loebl today to talk to an experienced attorney.