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Common Questions About Michigan’s Criminal Law Process

Pre-Arrest

How Long Can Police Take to Investigate a Crime?

There is a time limit for how long law enforcement can wait to charge someone after a suspected criminal activity has occurred, and this is known as the statute of limitations. If a person is charged after the statute of limitations has passed, the charges may be dismissed. In Michigan, the statute of limitations for most misdemeanors and felonies is six years. For some violent crimes, such as armed robbery or criminal sexual conduct, the statute of limitations may be longer. Murder charges have no statute of limitations in Michigan.

Arrest

When Can I Be Arrested Without a Warrant?

If a police officer witnesses a crime taking place, they can arrest the person engaged in the criminal act immediately without a warrant. Police may also arrest a suspect without a warrant if there is enough evidence to suggest that a crime occurred. An example of this is when a person is pulled over, fails a sobriety test, and is arrested for driving under the influence.

For traffic or nontraffic misdemeanors where the sentence is 93 days in jail or less, officers may also arrest a suspect with only a citation. For all charges with a potential penalty greater than 93 days in jail, a warrant is required to make an arrest.

What’s the Difference Between Bond and Bail?

Bond is a promise, made by the defendant, that they will appear in court when ordered to do so. Bail is the money or other property that the suspect must give to the court in exchange for being released from jail while the case is pending.

Arraignment

What Happens at Arraignment?

Arraignment is a suspect’s first appearance before the court, and it’s at this point that the suspect becomes the defendant. During arraignment, a district court judge or a magistrate will explain the charges against you, what constitutional rights you have in this situation, and the potential penalties if you plead guilty or are found by the court to be guilty. For misdemeanor charges, you can choose to enter a plea at this time.

How Is Arraignment Different for Felony Charges?

The defendant in a felony arraignment will not enter a plea at their first appearance. The judge will explain the charges and notify you of your right to a preliminary examination (sometimes called a prelim) within 14 days. During the prelim, the prosecutor will present evidence against you, and try to convince the judge that there is enough evidence of a crime for the case to proceed. If the judge agrees, then a second arraignment occurs where you will e asked to enter a plea.

Pre-Trial

Can I Resolve My Case Before Going to Trial?

Yes, in most cases you will have an opportunity to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor before going to trial. If you are charged with a misdemeanor and plead not guilty or enter no plea, then you may be required to attend a pretrial conference where your attorney and the prosecutor can discuss a potential plea agreement. For felony charges, a similar meeting may be scheduled before or after the preliminary examination.

Trial

How Does a Criminal Trial Work?

In Michigan, both sides have the right to request a trial by jury in criminal cases. However, both sides may also agree to a bench trial, in which there is no jury and the judge alone decides the outcome.

For a jury trial, one of the first steps will be jury selection. Your attorney may request to have potential jurors removed if they display bias or if there is a good cause to do so. Once the jury has been determined, the prosecutor will give an opening statement that summarizes the case against you and the evidence they will present. The prosecutor will call witnesses to the stand to be questioned, and your attorney will be able to question (or cross-examine) the witnesses also. Once the prosecutor is finished, your legal team will present your side to the judge. The prosecutor will then have an opportunity to respond (called rebuttal) before the trial moves on to closing arguments. Each side will give a final statement that explains what they believe actually occurred. Finally, the jury or judge will decide whether the defendant is guilty or not.

Sentencing

What Happens if I Am Convicted?

If you are found guilty by a judge or jury, or you plead guilty, then a judge will determine your punishment. Before this happens, the court’s probation department will prepare a pre-sentencing report that includes details about the crime and about your history and background. The report will also include a recommended sentence, which the judge may choose to follow or not. Penalties for criminal charges can include jail or prison time, fines, probation, community service, or restitution.

Appeals

Can I Appeal My Conviction?

If you are convicted, you often have the right to appeal, which is asking the court to reconsider the decision. In some circumstances, the court can decide not to hear an appeal. These proceedings can be highly complex and will depend on the specifics of your case. A skilled criminal defense attorney can help you explore these options.

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