Anatomy of a Michigan Misdemeanor

Arraignment

Once arrested and charged, the suspect appears in District Court for arraignment. The defendant is told what the charges are and the maximum penalty if convicted.  The defendant will be given a chance to enter a plea to the charge: plead guilty, plead not guilty, or stand mute (i.e., remain silent, which is treated by the court as if the defendant pled not guilty).  If the defendant stands mute or pleads not guilty, the case will be scheduled for a pre-trial conference.

Pre-Trial Conference

A Pre-Trial Conference involves a meeting between the prosecution and the defense. Generally, this is not a formal hearing and the judge is not present.  Topics discussed include plea bargain opportunities, strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution’s case, pretrial motions and intangible factors of the case, such as the defendant’s character and past history.

At pre-trial, the prosecution may make an offer to the defense to plea to a lesser charge or to the charged offense without suffering the maximum penalties (plea bargain).  A plea offer cannot be accepted or rejected by the defense attorney and a decision is not expected at this hearing.

Plea Hearing

Once the prosecution and the defense have met for the Pre-Trial Conference, a formal Plea Hearing takes place.  The defendant has the opportunity to accept or reject the plea offer at this time on the record with the judge.  A plea of no contest, not guilty, or guilty will be entered at this time.  If a plea of no contest or guilty has been entered, the case is set for a sentencing hearing.  At times it is possible to proceed directly to sentencing on the same date and time as the plea. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the case is then set for trial.

Trial

A jury trial is the fact finding phase of the case. It is the in-court examination and resolution of a criminal case. At the trial a decision will be reached as to the innocence or guilt of the defendant. Unlike a plea-bargained settlement which completes the case prior to trial, a trial introduces risk for both the prosecution and defense. Neither side knows which side will prevail.

Sentencing

The judge determines the length and type of punishment at a sentencing hearing. The defense and prosecution will each have a chance to advocate for an appropriate sentence.  The defendant may make a statement to the court. In addition, the court may ask for a report from the probation department prior to sentencing the defendant.

The judge may consider different alternatives, such as a fine, probation, community service, a sentence to jail or prison, or a combination. The judge must also order the defendant to make restitution to any victims who have suffered financial harm.