Here is what you need to know about the first steps in a felony case.
A felony charge can be scary, anxiety-provoking, and mere allegations can have severe consequences. The more you know about the process, the better decisions you can make in your defense.
I. The Criminal Activity and Police Investigation
The first step in a case is the investigation by the police. The police will begin collecting evidence and questioning potential witnesses. After the police have gathered as much information as possible about a crime, they will analyze the evidence and determine if, in their judgment, they should present their evidentiary package to a prosecutor. It should be noted, however, that the police may arrest anyone at any time if they can articulate facts amounting to probable cause, and of course they can arrest anyone they see commit a crime.
II. The Prosecutor’s Decision
The police do not choose who to charge; the prosecutor does. If a prosecutor believes the police evidentiary package establishes probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, the prosecutor determines whether they have enough admissible evidence to charge someone. If so, the prosecutor authorizes a warrant against the defendant.
III. The “Swear To,” Authorization, and Arrest
Once the prosecutor authorizes a warrant, a police officer takes the warrant to a district court judge or magistrate and “swears to” the warrant. The officer must make a record establishing probable cause for an arrest. If satisfied, the judge then grants the warrant, and then the police are entitled to make an arrest. If a case is not of high seriousness, the police may send a letter to the defendant or call him or her on the phone. If the police believe the defendant is a danger to the public, they will immediately find the defendant and arrest him or her.
After an arrest is made, the police take the defendant to the police station in the city where the crime took place and “book” them. This means the defendant is photographed, fingerprinted and personal information is gathered about the defendant, assuming the defendant agrees to provide any information. When the defendant has been booked, if court is in session the defendant is brought before a judge. If not, the defendant is lodged in a jail until a judge is available.
When the defendant is brought before a judge, the judge tells the defendant precisely what he or she has been charged with. The judge then asks the defendant how he or she pleads to the charge. If a defendant refuses to say anything, a “not guilty” plea will be entered. In the vast majority of cases, the defendant pleads not guilty. A not guilty plea is similar to a starting gun: it starts the legal adversarial process.
It is at this time that the judge addresses bond. Frequently, the police will be questioned by the judge so the judge can assess what kind of bond to put in place. In particularly noteworthy or serious cases, the prosecutor will be present to attempt to ensure a bond is set which will ensure the defendant stays in jail or will return to court when ordered. It is at this stage also that the defendant is asked if he or she wants a court-appointed attorney or if they will retain an attorney.
A defendant charged with a felony may plead guilty to a felony in district court (city or municipal courts). However, a circuit judge (county judge) must sentence the defendant on the conviction. District courts do not have authority to sentence a defendant for a crime that carries a potential penalty of over 1 year in jail.
VI. Probable Cause Conference
A probable cause conference (PCC) is a court date where the prosecution and defense meet and discuss possible plea bargains, procedural matters, discovery, and bond issues. The PCC is required to take place 7-14 days after arraignment.
VII. Preliminary Examination
The preliminary examination is a hearing whereat the prosecution must elicit testimony and produce evidence establishing that a crime was committed, and probable cause to believe the defendant committed it. The preliminary exam must take place within 5-7 days of the PCC.
The prosecution does not need to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt at preliminary exam. If the judge is satisfied that the prosecution has met its burden of proof, the case will be “bound over” to circuit court in the county where the crime took place.
Felony and Misdemeanor Criminal Defense
If you are a suspect in a criminal investigation or if you are charged with a felony or misdemeanor, your situation is serious and you must seek to protect yourself in the best way possible. A criminal conviction will likely affect all aspects of your life for years and should be avoided if possible. The Defense Team with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. has been successfully defending clients in Michigan for decades and we provide a free consultation and confidential case evaluation. Do not get railroaded!
Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation, or complete a Request for Assistance Form and we will contact you promptly.