Felony Prosecution, Part I: Arraignment & the Probable Cause Conference

The Probable Cause Conference

What is a probable cause conference (PCC)? We are asked that question a lot. It’s part of the beginning of a felony prosecution and is filled with potential pitfalls and opportunities for a defendant to better his chances going forward. If you have been charged with a felony in Michigan and the prosecution plans on pursuing the charge, the law requires that certain steps be taken to protect the innocent and ensure that caseloads at circuit courts are reserved for legitimate felony proceedings. The probable cause standard is the threshold used to achieve those goals and the probable cause conference is the beginning of the court’s application of that standard to each case.

The Court System

In Michigan, all state charges begin at the district court level. Each county has only one circuit court, the venue where the most serious cases are handled. Each county also has at least one district court, though more populated counties have many. For example, the building that houses the Lapeer County Circuit Court in Lapeer, MI also contains the sole district court in the county. Conversely, Oakland County has a circuit court in Pontiac with 14 district courts in places like Troy, Novi, Bloomfield Hills, and Royal Oak.

If you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor, your case will begin and end at the district court level. If you are charged with a felony, your case will begin at a district court but it could be bound over to circuit court if the probable cause threshold is crossed.

First Steps

When a felony warrant is issued, the defendant must go before a district court judge or magistrate for arraignment, the primary purposes of which are twofold. First, a defendant has a right to know the charges against him or her. Second, the court needs to make a determination on bond. Bond is an assurance that one will return to court for future proceedings and is typically a financial matter. In rare circumstances dealing with violent crimes allegedly committed by those with violent pasts, the court may hold the defendant without bond. It is important that you have an experienced attorney at this stage because an argument should be made at arraignment that either personal bond (where you do not have to put down any money) or a low cash bond is warranted in your case. Failure here can lead to a person, who retains the presumption of innocence, being incarcerated for months pending court proceedings. Additionally, conditions of bond will be placed by the court and a practiced attorney can help limit their severity. Once arraignment is complete, the court moves to the probable cause conference.

What is a Probable Cause Conference?

The PCC is the first formal opportunity for the prosecutor and defense counsel to meet and discuss the case. In order to guarantee the best possible outcome, it’s crucial that you begin on the right foot and only a seasoned attorney knows what strategies to implement as well as where the dangers lie. The district court judge will want an answer at the conclusion of this conference as to whether or not a preliminary examination is being held or if the exam is being waived.

When to Call an Attorney?

The mechanics of the exam will be explained in Felony Prosecution, Part II: The Preliminary Exam. The decision to hold or waive the exam it is an important one and should be made in consultation with an attorney who knows the law, the prosecutor, and the court. The attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have decades of experience handling felonies in Oakland County, Macomb County, Wayne County, and throughout Michigan. They know when the prosecution should be compelled to hold an exam, when it is not beneficial to the client, and all the details that must be taken into consideration throughout a felony prosecution. If you have been charged with a felony, call (248) 263-6800 or complete a Request for Assistance Form and one of the attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. will consult with you on your case. The best way to handle a felony charge is to begin the process with an experienced legal team in your corner, protecting your rights and guiding you through the complicated process that begins with the arraignment and probable cause conference.