If you are charged with a felony, the judge will schedule two court dates in District Court at your arraignment. The Probable Cause Conference (PCC) is the first hearing.
Prior to the PCC, your attorney will obtain any police reports and other evidence (known as discovery) in your case. Your attorney will usually have been contacted by the prosecutor’s office to determine if there are any plea bargain offers available. Your attorney will discuss with you the options you have at PCC, to decide the best way for you to proceed.
The PCC is designed as a status conference to determine if there any issues with discovery or scheduling. In addition, the court will inquire as to the status of the case – specifically whether a plea agreement has been reached, or if the matter needs to proceed to Preliminary Examination.
You will have the option to enter a plea or to continue the matter to the previously scheduled exam.
For details on how the plea process works, see the Plea Process section below.
The Preliminary Examination (Exam) is the second hearing that was scheduled at your arraignment. If the Exam is conducted, the prosecutor is required to bring forth evidence, either through witnesses or exhibits, to establish probable cause that each felony charge has been committed, and to establish probable cause that the Defendant is the one that committed the crime.
This is not a trial but rather a probable cause hearing. As such, the prosecutor can choose to call a limited number of witnesses to testify. Your attorney has the opportunity to cross examine the prosecution’s witnesses. In some very rare cases, your attorney could call witnesses as well.
The Court reviews the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecutor, and if there any questions of fact based on the evidence presented, then the court is required to bind the matter over to Circuit Court for further proceedings. If the court finds that probable cause has not been established, then the case could be dismissed.
The preliminary examination may also be waived on the record. This is accomplished by signing a form that confirms your desire to waive the examination, and the fact that the case will proceed to Circuit Court.
You should discuss your options with your attorney to make an informed decision on your best strategy in approaching the exam.
Once your case proceeds to the Circuit Court, the first hearing that will be scheduled is an Arraignment. Even though you were arraigned when you first were charged with a crime, when you change courts you are required to have an Arraignment in Circuit Court as well.
You have the option to conduct a formal arraignment where you personally appear in front of the judge (which is the same procedure as described in the Arraignment – What To Expect Tab on the Public Defender Homepage). You can also sign a form that waives your formal appearance at the circuit court arraignment. If you sign the waiver form, you will not need to appear in person, and the court will enter a plea of Not Guilty for you.
The next hearing that will be scheduled on your felony matter will be a Pretrial. The Pretrial serves as a status conference for the parties and the judge. The judge will want to know the current status of the case, in terms of whether there are any plea offers that are being considered, and whether the case is resolved or whether it will be set for trial.
If there is no resolution at Pretrial, the case will be set for a Jury Trial. The court will issue a Pretrial Order which outlines the timeframes for the filing and hearing of motions, and for other matters like the filing of witness and exhibits lists.
In St. Clair County, the Circuit Court judges will schedule the case for a Plea Hearing prior to the scheduled jury trial date. The Plea Hearing is ordinarily scheduled 7-10 days prior to your jury trial date. The judges treat the Plea Hearing as a plea cutoff date. This means that if a plea is not entered by the plea hearing date, then the court will not accept a plea to any reduced charges after that date. This hearing is designed to have clients decide ahead of trial on whether the case should be resolved or not.
If a plea agreement is reached, it can be placed on the record. If no plea agreement is reached at the plea hearing date, there is often a discussion regarding plea offers and sentencing guidelines. If the client rejects any plea offers, the court may well inquire of the Defendant personally to make sure the Defendant understands both the plea offer and the guideline exposure if the matter goes to trial. The court wants to make sure the Defendant is making a knowing and informed decision.
If a plea agreement has been reached, it can be placed on the record at the time of Pretrial or at the Plea Hearing. Ordinarily, the attorneys will inform the court of the details of the plea agreement. At that point, the Judge will proceed to take the plea. It should be noted that the Michigan Court Rules dictate what must be covered at your plea hearing.
The judge will first swear you in. The judge will ask some background questions regarding your name and address, and ask questions regarding your understanding of the plea agreement. The judge will confirm what your plea is, and confirm you have had enough time to discuss the case with your attorney.
Next, the judge will verify that you understand the rights you are giving up by entering a guilty plea. The judge will also verify that it is your free and voluntary choice to enter a plea. In other words, that the plea is your choice, and no one has threatened or coerced you into accepting the plea.
Finally, the court will need a factual basis on the record to support the taking of the plea. Each crime is made of parts called elements, and the judge needs facts on the record to establish the elements of the crime you are pleading to. Most times your lawyer will ask you these questions. The questions help to establish where and when the crime occurred, and your role in the crime. The prosecutor and judge may also ask questions to assist in establishing the factual basis.
Once the plea is accepted, the court will schedule the matter for sentencing.
If the case is not resolved, it will proceed to jury trial.
The first phase of a jury trial is jury selection, also known as voir dire. The primary goal of jury selection is to to select a group of fair and impartial citizens to listen to the evidence and decide the case. In Circuit Court, a jury is comprised of 12 individuals. During jury selection, the court will provide information to the prospective jurors about the nature of the case and the law that the jurors must follow.
The Court can remove an unlimited number of potential jurors for cause if there is a reason a potential juror cannot be fair or impartial, or if that potential juror has some personal reason that he or she cannot sit on the case. Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney have the opportunity to question the prospective jurors as well. Both the prosecutor and your defense attorney may also exercise up to 5 peremptory challenges (this number will increase if you are charged with a capital felony) to move potential jurors off the panel. There need not be a specific reason to exercise a peremptory challenges.by the attorneys
Once a jury is selected, the panel will be sworn in and given preliminary instructions on the law by the judge.
The trial then follows the following procedure: First, the prosecutor makes an opening statement, and gives his or her theories about the case. The defendant’s lawyer does not have to make an opening statement, but may make an opening statement after the prosecutor makes one, or the defendant’s lawyer may wait until later.
Next, the prosecutor presents his or her evidence. The prosecutor may call witnesses to testify and may enter exhibits like documents or objects. The defendant’s lawyer has the right to cross-examine the prosecutor’s witnesses.
After the prosecutor has presented all of his or her evidence, the defendant’s attorney may also offer evidence, but does not have to. By law, the defendant does not have to prove his or her innocence or produce any evidence. If the defense does call any witnesses, the prosecutor has the right to cross-examine them. The prosecutor may also call witnesses to contradict or rebut the testimony of the defense witnesses.
After all the evidence has been presented, the prosecutor and the defendant’s lawyer will make closing arguments. Once the arguments are completed, the court will give the jury final instructions on the law to the jury. The jury then begins deliberations.
If the jury reaches a unanimous verdict, it is then read on the record in open court.
If the Defendant is found Not Guilty of the charge(s), the matter is concluded. If the Defendant is found Guilty on any of the charge(s), the matter will be scheduled for a sentencing date.
If there is plea that is entered, or if someone is convicted after a trial, the judge will refer felony cases to the Circuit Court Probation Department for completion of a Presentence Investigation Report.
A probation officer will be assigned to your case. That probation officer will schedule a meeting with. It may be in person, by phone or by video call. Prior to the meeting, you will be required to complete an information booklet which contains background and case information for your probation officer.
After meeting with you, the probation officer will prepare a written Presentence Report (PSI) that contains specific recommendations as to what your sentence should be. A copy of the report that is given to all parties approximately 5 days prior to sentencing.
The Presentence Investigation Report has several purposes. These include giving the judge complete information about you and your personal history – including prior criminal history if any, your family history, your work history, and any history of substance abuse. The report also provides the judge with a full statement of the facts of the case. In the report, the Probation Officer will also score the sentencing guidelines. For more information on the guidelines, see the What are the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines tab on the Public Defender Homepage.
At your sentencing, the judge first confirms whether the PSI report and sentencing guidelines are accurate and correct. If any changes need to made to the report, those issues are addressed by the attorneys, with the judge making the final decision on any corrections.
Next, the judge allows the parties to address the court on what the appropriate sentence should be. As such, you, your attorney, the prosecutor and probation officer will have a chance to speak. If there is a victim in the case, that person also has a right to speak to the judge at sentencing.
After hearing all parties, the judge then imposes your sentence.