The Criminal Process in Michigan

While criminal cases are handled similarly everywhere in the United States, there will be slight differences in each state. Here's a general overview of what happens in Michigan.

Under Arrest

In Michigan, people can be arrested if there is probable cause to believe they committed a crime. Sometimes the arrest is immediate, because the officer saw something happen. Most of the time, though, it comes after police gather enough evidence to convince a prosecutor to issue an arrest warrant. Before officers can begin questioning, they must tell the suspect that he has the right to remain silent and to be represented by a lawyer. Cases can be thrown out if suspects aren't advised of these Constitutional rights.

After the arrest, the accused is booked at a police station. The suspect is photographed and fingerprinted, and officials record information such as birth date and address.

First Appearance

A suspect's first appearance in court is the arraignment before a district judge or magistrate. It's held soon after the arrest. The judge will tell the accused about the charges against him, appoint an attorney if the accused doesn't have one, determine if there was probable cause for the arrest and set bail. If the crime is a misdemeanor, the accused enters a plea at the arraignment, with immediate sentencing if he pleads guilty.


Felony defendants can ask for a preliminary hearing, where the prosecutor will have to convince the district judge that there's enough reason to believe the defendant committed a crime. If the judge agrees, the case is sent to circuit court for trial. If he doesn't, the case is dismissed.

Making a Deal

Most criminal cases are resolved when the prosecutor agrees to let the defendant plead guilty or no contest to reduced charges or in exchange for a lighter sentence. Michigan judges don't have to abide by the agreements in sentencing, though most of the time they do.

Preliminary Hearings and the Grand Jury

In Michigan, the grand jury process rarely is used in criminal cases. Preliminary hearings are more common. Defendants can request one — and sometimes they do in order to get a preview of the prosecutor's case — but they're not required.

The Trial

Defendants can be tried by jury or, if both sides agree, before a judge. Most felony trials are before juries. The prosecution and defense present evidence and arguments, and then the jury decides if the prosecution has proven the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If all jurors can't agree, a mistrial will be declared. The case can be tried again before new jurors.

Though Michigan has sentencing guidelines that spell out minimum sentences based on the crime and the criminal's history, the judge has some discretion. The prosecutor can make a recommendation, and both sides can submit additional evidence. The judge can consider alternatives — restitution, probation or community service — in addition to jail or prison time.

Consult a Lawyer

This article is intended as an overview of Michigan's criminal law system. If you're suspected of a crime, contact a lawyer as quickly as possible so that you can get legal advice geared toward your specific case.

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