Basic Information Regarding the Process of Criminal Cases
Criminal cases typically begin before an attorney becomes involved. During the investigation, or shortly after the investigation is complete, an arrest is made. This simply means that a person is taken into police custody. Handcuffs or physical restraints are not necessary to arrest a person. As soon as the officer informs the suspect that he/she is "under arrest" the person should submit to the police officer's control. Arrests usually occur in the following circumstances:
1. The police officer personally observes a crime
2. The police officer has "probable cause" to make the arrest
3. An arrest warrant has been issued
† † † † † - Identifies crime committed;
† † † † † - Identifies the individual suspected of committing the crime;
† † † † † - Specifies where the suspected individual may be found; and
† † † † † - Gives permission to arrest the suspected individual.
Remember that you have the right to remain silent and to request an attorney. The police are very adept at obtaining statements. However, if you have never faced criminal charges, and most of us have not, you should know that you have the right to remain silent and the right to contact an attorney. The first thing you should do, upon being contacted by a police officer, is to contact an attorney. I cannot emphasize that enough!
After your arrest you are taken to the county jail and booked. When you are booked the following things occur:
1. Jail personnel take your personal information (i.e., name, date of birth, physical characteristics);
2. Jail personnel record information about the alleged crime;
3. Jail personnel perform a record search of the your background;
4. Jail personnel take fingerprints and photographs, and conduct a search of your person;
5. Personal property is confiscated (i.e., keys, purse), and will be returned to you upon your release; and
6. Jail personnel place you in a holding cell or jail cell.
Bail is the process of getting out of jail with the approval of the court. The judge will post a bond amount. Most bail amounts are established by the courts; however, the court can also vary the amount based upon the type of crime, your criminal history, likelihood to commit another, and your likelihood to flee. Bail can also be done on a "personal recognizance bond." This means that you sign a paper saying that you will appear in court on a given date and time. For most crimes in Michigan, the personal recognizance bond is used.
Courtroom proceedings start with the arraignment. This is where the judge reads you the charges, if you do not have an attorney you can have one appointed, asks you how you plead (guilty, not guilty or no contest), can alter bail at this hearing, and announces future court dates.
After the arraignment, the prosecutor may offer you or your attorney a "plea bargain." This means that you would plead guilty to one or more charges (or to a lesser charge) in exchange for a more lenient sentence. This helps the state to alleviate court costs and pushes your case through the court system quicker. Not all individuals are offered a plea bargain. In some instances it may be wise to accept the offer, while other instances it may be wise to try the case in court. Only an experienced attorney can provide you with the proper direction and course of action.
After the arraignment, a preliminary hearing will be held. During this hearing the judge decides whether or not there is enough evidence for the defendant to stand trial. The "probable cause" legal standard is used. This means that there has to be reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime. Both the prosecutor and the defense can put on witnesses and submit evidence during this hearing. However, a preliminary hearing is not held in every case. This hearing is usually reserved for more serious felony cases.
After the preliminary hearing and before the case goes to trial, the prosecution and defense are allowed to submit motions. Motions are requests to the court to do or not to do something. Court hearings may be held on the matters, or the judge may rule without a hearing. Some examples of motions would be: to suppress evidence, to suppress testimony or witnesses, to suppress confessions, and requests for dismissal of case due to lack of evidence.
After motions are complete and the preliminary case is not dismissed, the suspected individual/defendant/accused will go to trial. During the trial the judge or the jury will examine the evidence and decide whether the defendant is guilty or innocent. Before the judge or jury can do this, the prosecution and defense are allowed to present their case by offering evidence and testimony of witnesses. The entire process is as follows:
1. Choose the jury - these are members of the community.
2. Opening Statements - are statements to the jury by attorneys regarding the case and what they intend to do.
3. Witness Testimony & Cross-Examination by other side - evidence is submitted and witnesses are called to give their statements.
4. Closing Arguments - are statements made to the jury by the attorneys as to what they want the jury to do.
5. Jury Instructions - these instructions are found in the Michigan Criminal Jury Instructions and provide the jury with direction in their deliberations.
6. Jury Deliberation and Verdict - the jury is sequestered to make their decision. The verdict is the result of their decision.
If the defendant is found not guilty, he is free to go, unless he/she was in police custody at the start of the trial, in which case, he/she will have to return to the jail to outprocess. If the defendant is found guilty, he/she will normally be taken to jail to await sentencing. At the sentencing hearing, the judge will decide on the appropriate punishment. The maximum allowable punishment is based upon the type of crime committed. Each offense varies. An experienced attorney will be able to provide you the proper information regarding sentencing guidelines. Sentences may include:
1. Jail - for short term incarcerations
2. Prison - for long term incarcerations
5. Suspended sentences
6. Restitution - repayment of what is taken or damages that occurred
7. Community service
8. Drug and alcohol rehabilitation
You should be aware that the taking of your driver's license in alcohol/drug related vehicle cases is a result of the Secretary of State. More information on this can be found at the top of the page under the "case types" tab and then "drunk driving."
During the sentencing hearing, the judge will review information that has been gathered by the prosecutor, defense attorney and the probation department. After your trial, you should contact friends, family, business associates, teachers, doctors, or other individuals who know you to write letters of recommendation. These letters then become part of a "pre-sentence report" that is prepared by the probation department. This report states what you were found guilty of, the minimum and maximum allowable sentences, and recommendations as to your potential for rehabilitation. The judge reviews this report and takes into consideration the following when making his determination on sentence:
1. Criminal history, or lack of criminal history
† † † † †- "First time offender" or "repeat offender"
2. Nature of the crime, how it was committed, impact or injuries to victims
† † † † †-Acting by yourself or with somebody else
† † † † †-Whether guns, knives, or other assault weapons were used
† † † † †-Whether you were cruel or vindictive to your victims
3. Defendant's personal, economic, and social circumstances
† † † † †-Whether you were under stress, or if somebody was making you do the crime
4. Any regret or remorse expressed by the defendant
After sentencing, the defendant has the right to appeal the judge's ruling. An "appeal" is the process of requesting the next higher court to relook over your case based on errors made during your case. No new evidence is submitted, the new court looks at all documents and transcripts from the original case. The higher court can approve the original verdict, dismiss the original verdict, or send it back because an error should be fixed. This error may cause a rehearing of that matter in court. There are numerous ways that this stage can go. An experienced attorney can provide you additional information regarding this and other criminal type matters.
To protect your rights you should contact Elhart & Horvath, P.C., at 1-800-968-4534 or (231) 946-2420 for a free consultation.
Elhart & Horvath, P.C. has successful results in cases involving open murder, traffic offenses, bad checks, drunk driving, domestic violence, sex crimes, drug charges, embezzlement, home invasion, property crimes, assault and battery, white collar crimes, child abuse, license restoration, all felonies, and all types of misdemeanors.