Steps in the Michigan Criminal Process
Investigation and Filing of the Criminal Complaint
When a crime has been committed, an investigation is conducted by the law enforcement having jurisdiction over the geographical area where the crime occurred. After the investigation is completed, the officer in charge of the case will bring all evidence to the Prosecuting Attorney for approval for filing of the criminal complaint.
In this part of the process, the prosecuting attorney reviews the law enforcement agency’s investigation and evidence and will decide if there is enough legally admissible evidence to authorize a warrant for the defendant’s arrest. It there is indeed enough evidence, a warrant can be issued for arrest of the defendant. If there is insufficient admissible evidence, a warrant may be denied outright or the investigating officer may be ordered to conduct further investigation pending reevaluation of the case.
If a warrant is authorized, the officer in charge takes it to the district court judge having jurisdiction over the case and a probable cause hearing will be held. During the hearing, the judicial magistrate will determine whether there is sufficient cause to sign and issue the warrant. If the defendant is already in custody, he or she will be brought before the magistrate for arraignment.
During an arraignment, the charges against the defendant are read to him/her. At this time, the defendant has the opportunity to enter a plea to the charges listed on the warrant and is advised of the right to an attorney, a jury trial and a pretrial examination. The judge will then set bail to ensure that the defendant will appear in court. For a circuit court felony or misdemeanor, a preliminary examination will be scheduled within fourteen days of the date of arraignment.
The first adversarial hearing before the district is called the preliminary examination. At this time the defendant is represented by legal counsel if desired and the prosecutor is required to submit sufficient evidence to show a crime was committed and there is probable cause to believe it was committed by the defendant. The defense will be allowed to cross examine the prosecution’s witnesses and to call their own witnesses and submit evidence on behalf of the defendant. After submission of all evidence, the magistrate may do one of three things. He may find that a crime has been committed and that there is sufficient cause to believe the defendant committed the crime. The case would then be sent to the circuit level for arraignment. Second, the magistrate may dismiss the charges if there is insufficient evidence that a crime was committed and/or the insufficient evidence that it was committed by the defendant. Lastly, if the magistrate determines that the crime as listed in the complaint is not sufficiently proven but rather that a lesser offense was committed by the defendant, then the judge will bind the defendant over for arraignment and trial on the lesser crime.
Circuit Court Arraignment
When a case reaches the circuit court, the charges are read to the defendant and he or she can enter a plea. If the defendant stands must or pleads not guilty, the case is either put on the trial docket or scheduled for a pretrial. Though defendants rarely plead guilty at this point, if he or she does so, a sentencing date will be scheduled and a presentencing investigation ordered.
During this phase of the process, the defense may bring any of a number of motions to trial. Motion to Quash is when the defendant alleges that the district court judge “abused his discretion” in binding the defendant over for trial and therefore asks that the charges and case be dismissed. The defense may also allege that evidence obtained during the investigation was in violation of the defendant’s civil rights and ask the court to suppress the evidence and not allow it at the trial. In a Walker Hearing, an allegation is made that the defendant’s confession was coerced or made in a way that violated his/her constitutional rights and should therefore not be allowed at the trial.
The trial follows all motions and pre-trials and has several different stages. A trial can be conducted before a jury or a judge without a jury.
This first stage involves selection of jury members. The judge and attorneys for both sides must be present and can ask prospective jurors questions to determine whether they are qualified and also unprejudiced and unbiased. Twelve jurors and two alternates are chosen and sworn in.
Opening Statements and Proofs
Once jury selection is completed, prosecution and defense can make opening statements presenting a general outline of the case and their evidence. The burden of proof falls on the prosecution so they present their case first. The defendant must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and the defense is not required to submit evidence or witnesses. However, if the defense does choose to present a defense, the prosecution may respond with rebuttal evidence, additional evidence intended to disprove evidence presented by the defense.
Closing Arguments, Instruction, and Deliberation
Since the prosecution carries the burden of proof, they will present their closing argument first. After this, the defense may present its own closing argument, to which the prosecution may respond with a final rebuttal argument to the jury. Once all arguments are completed, the jury will be instructed on how they are to apply the law in their deliberations; they will then retire to deliberate on all evidence presented. The jury will return to court with a verdict which must be unanimous with all jury members in agreement. If they have found the defendant not guilty, the case is dismissed and the defendant is discharged. However, if the defendant is found guilty, he/she is entitled to appeal the verdict.
A defendant is sentenced following conviction of the crime. After this sentencing, he or she is entitled to appeal to an appellate court. In Michigan, you have an “appeal of right” to the Michigan Court of Appeals. This means that following a trial, the Court of Appeals must consider your case. If you were convicted by a plea, the Court of Appeals has discretion to hear your case but is not obligated to do so.
Our Michigan criminal defense attorneys are experienced in all phases of felony criminal proceedings and may be able to assist you in avoiding or reducing potentially serious consequences of finding yourself the defendant in a felony criminal trial. To discuss your situation, please fill out the contact form or call us at (616) 244-2234.