If you are charged with a misdemeanor, the judge will schedule a Pretrial Hearing (Pretrial) in District Court at your arraignment.
Prior to the Pretrial, your attorney will obtain any police reports and other evidence (known as discovery) in your case. Your attorney will usually be contacted by the prosecutor’s office to determine if there any plea bargain offers available. Your attorney will discuss your case with you prior to the Pretrial hearing, to decide the best way for you to proceed.
At the Pretrial, 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 trial. If there are issues with discovery or scheduling, these will be discussed as well.
You will have the option to enter a plea, or to schedule the matter for a Bench or Jury Trial.
For details on how the plea process works, see the Plea Process section below.
If there is no resolution at Pretrial, the court will issue a Pretrial Order which outlines the timeframes for matters such as the filing of witness and exhibits lists.
If a plea agreement is reached, it must be placed on the record. 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 must impose a sentence. Sometimes the court will let your attorney advocate for you, then impose sentence immediately. Other times, the court will schedule the matter for sentencing on a future date.
If the case is not resolved, you may elect to 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 select a group of fair and impartial citizens to listen to the evidence and decide the case. In District Court, a jury is comprised of 6 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 3 peremptory challenges to move potential jurors off the panel. There need not be a specific reason to exercise a peremptory challenges.
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, the matter is concluded. If the Defendant is found Guilty on any charge, the matter will proceed to sentencing. Sometimes the court will let your attorney advocate for you, then impose sentence immediately. Other times, the court will schedule the matter for sentencing on a future date.
The procedure for a Bench Trial is very similar to the Jury Trial process. The evidence, opening statements, and closing arguments are presented in the same manner as in a Jury Trial.
The primary difference in a Bench Trial is that the judge is the trier of fact. As such, in a Bench Trial, the judge listens to all of the evidence, considers the law, and then renders the verdict.
You should discuss with your attorney the pros and cons of deciding on a jury trial or a bench trial in your case.
If there is plea that is entered, or if someone is convicted after a trial, the judge may refer misdemeanor cases to the District 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. You will be provided with an information booklet to fill out prior to your meeting with your probation officer. After meeting with you, the probation officer will prepare a written Presentence Investigation 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 PSI 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.
At your sentencing, the judge first confirms whether the parties have reviewed the Presentence Report, and whether it is 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.
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.