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You’ve been charged with a crime, now what?
Hopefully, you never get to experience the turmoil, uneasiness, fear and anxiety it may cause you when you are accused of a crime. But what if it happens to you? This primer will attempt to explain the criminal judicial process in a general sense, so you have an idea of what to expect if you are unfortunately charged with a crime.
First, were you arrested? If you were arrested on the day you allegedly committed a crime, then most likely you will be taken to the jail and processed. This usually includes the police taking some general information from you, as well as photographing and fingerprinting you. Depending on the crime, you may be detained in jail with or without a bond being set. You may be released upon paying a bond, or by promising to appear at a later date (called a personal recognizance bond)?
But what is a bond? A bond is a promise, usually given in monetary form, that allows you to be released from jail if you return to court when the judge tells you to do so. The amount you have to pay for the bond varies on the seriousness of the allegations, your criminal history, and other factors. Generally speaking, the less serious the alleged crime, the lower the bond will be. For minor offenses where one has little to no criminal record, a personal recognizance bond may be authorized. This requires the accused to not have to pay any up front money, but if they do not show up to court when asked, they may have to pay the amount to stay out of jail in the future.
What if you can not afford the bond the court is charging you to get out of jail? This is where a bondsman may be employed. A bondsman will typically charge you much less than a court will for a bond. For example, if the court wants $1000 as a bond, a bondsman may agree to pay that amount for you, while charging you 20-25% of that amount. The benefit of this transaction is that you do not have to pay as much money to get out of jail. The downside is that the bondsman keeps your money, whereas the court will either refund 90% or more of your bond, or apply it to any fines you may incur by the end of the case.
For the Michigan Compiled Law section on bond, click here: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(4ia2f5he1qwx2bhg2f3nsymo))/mileg.aspx?page=getobject&objectName=mcl-765-6
What if you were not arrested at the time of the alleged incident? In many cases, drug crimes especially, the police will take the suspected drugs and send them to a lab for analysis. They may not even write you a ticket. Months later when the analysis is complete, you may then get paperwork from the court advising you of the charges. At this point, the court will either specify a date for you to come in, or they will let you go to a “walk-in” arraignment, where you simply show up during a certain time of day to be arraigned.
You have been charged with a crime and are now out on bond. What happens next?
Next is called the arraignment. An arraignment is where one goes in front of the court to have the charges and penalties read to them. You can even plead guilty to the crime at your arraignment, though it is highly suggested you do not. After the charges are read, the court will set a bond, (if you have not paid one already), give you a new court date, and may impose special conditions for your release. For example, on a domestic violence charge, the court may tell you that you can not have any contact with the alleged victim in the case- even if they are your spouse. If it is a drug or alcohol offense, you may be placed on random drug and alcohol testing. If it is a more serious offense, some courts will have you check in with them on a daily basis. Note: for some minor offenses, if you hire an attorney before going to your arraignment, your attorney can often times get the arraignment waived altogether, thus lessening any potential conditions for your release.
It is very important to have an experienced attorney at your arraignment, as they can have an impact on what conditions are placed on you during the pendency of your charges.
You have been charged with a crime, and either had an arraignment or have had your arraignment waived. Now what?
Your case will proceed in one of two ways after your arraignment, depending on whether you were charged with a felony (a crime punishable with prison time), or a misdemeanor (a crime for which there is no possibility of prison).
If you are charged with a misdemeanor, your case will be set for a pre-trial. The pre-trial is where you and your attorney can go over the evidence against you, your attorney can speak to the prosecutor, and you then start making decisions as to how to proceed. If your attorney negotiates a good plea deal, and you accept it, then the case proceeds to sentencing at a future date. If more investigation needs to be completed before the case can be settled, then it may be adjourned for a period of time. And as always, you may choose to not accept any deal and instead ask for a trial, where a group of your peers will decide your guilt or innocence.
What if I was charged with a felony?
If charged with a felony, there are some similarities and differences as to how your case will proceed. Similar to a misdemeanor case, a felony case will also have an initial court date where you and your attorney will look at the evidence against you and begin potential negotiations with the prosecutor’s office. These hearings are usually called status conferences or pre-exam conferences.
One difference between a felony and misdemeanor case is timing. Felony cases are put on more strict time frames than misdemeanor cases. For example, after being arraigned on a felony charge, you are entitled to a preliminary exam within 21 days of your arraignment, unless you waive that right, or there is good cause otherwise.
What is a preliminary exam?
A preliminary exam is a hearing with you, your attorney, the prosecutor, and any witnesses that is used to determine if there is probable cause that you MAY have committed the alleged felony offense. A judge decides if that burden has been met, and there is no jury present. These hearings are sometimes waived, and sometimes not. You can freely choose to waive a preliminary exam, wherein the case will be moved to circuit court for further proceedings. You may choose to have your preliminary exam to see what the prosecutor’s evidence looks like. Rarely does one testify at their own preliminary exam, as the goal is to get the prosecutor to reveal their cards, and for the defense to keep theirs guarded.
Of course, every case is different, and plea negotiations may factor into whether a preliminary exam is necessary at all. As always, speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney to figure out how your case should proceed.
If the preliminary exam is waived, then as stated before, the case proceeds to circuit court (more on that later). If the hearing is held, the judge may decide there is not probable cause for your case to proceed, and will dismiss the case. Note: this is very rare! Probable cause is a very low standard and most judges, even if the case is not advantageous for trial on the prosecution’s side, will still bind the case over to circuit court.
See below for a standard definition of probable cause:
When a felony enters circuit court, there is usually another opportunity to negotiate the case before it heads to trial. Additionally, your attorney will have an opportunity to file any motions with the court related to any legal issues with your case. These motions can be filed in both district AND circuit court, giving you the opportunity for a circuit court judge to overrule a district court judge on any particular legal issue.
Motion? What’s a Motion?
A motion is a legal writing which asks the court to make a ruling about some factor in your case. An attorney can motion the court to change your bond or bond conditions, ask for your release from jail, ask that evidence be included or excluded, up to even asking the court to suppress all of the evidence in your case and have it dismissed. Motions typically involve your attorney presenting a legal argument in front of the judge, where the prosecutor has an opportunity to object to it. Ultimately, the judge has the final say in granting or denying a motion- they are not heard by a jury.
(Back to your felony case in circuit court)
If you had a motion denied on your felony case in district court, your attorney may ask the circuit court to rule on the same motion. The circuit court judge has the ability to reverse the lower court’s decision and grant whatever relief you and your attorney are seeking. They can also deny the motion again.
After an additional period for negotiation and motion filing, your case will go to trial if it is not resolved beforehand.
Our Criminal Defense expertise includes:
- Simple and complicated drug offenses
- Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
- Minor in Possession (MIP)
- Assault & Battery
- Retail Fraud
- Traffic offenses
- Criminal Sexual Conduct
- Fleeing and Eluding
- Resisting and Obstructing
- Home Invasions
- Domestic Violence
- Open Murder
- And a variety of other criminal charges in the state of Michigan.
WHEN OTHERS TALK, WE LISTEN
You’re searching for the best criminal defense lawyer in Bay City. We get it. You have a lot of options. We also get that it’s incredibly confusing trying to figure out who the best criminal defense attorney is in Bay City, Michigan.
At Triton Legal PLC, we understand that this is a difficult time in your life, and you’re looking for someone who’s tough, aggressive, knowledgeable, and is a winner. But we also know that you need someone to not just talk at you and tell you about how great they are. You need someone to listen. We pride ourselves on being compassionate and understanding. When things have taken a turn for the worse, you need someone to listen to you, and have understanding.
Don’t be fooled by attorneys just claiming to be the best criminal defense lawyer, call Triton Legal, and experience strength when you need it the most.