How A Case Proceeds
The criminal justice process is a thorough one that sometimes can wrap up quickly and other times can take a longer period of time to ensure justice is achieved. Here’s a breakdown of the criminal case process, discussed in order of occurrence:
Based on a police department's initial investigation, suspects age 17 or older are arrested and taken to the Saginaw County jail.
2) Booking and Questioning
Suspects are booked into jail, fingerprinted and photographed. Police officers may continue their investigation.
3) Complaint and Warrant
The complaint is a written accusation that a person committed a specified criminal offense. It sets forth the specific charge(s) against the defendant. The arrest warrant, based on the criminal complaint, is the court's order to arrest the defendant and bring him before the court to answer the outstanding charges.
The Saginaw County Prosecutor's Office determines what charges to bring and prepares the complaint and warrant. We may charge the defendant with a felony, a misdemeanor, or a combination of both. The warrant is signed by a Saginaw County District Court Judge or Magistrate.
4) District Court Arraignment
The defendant is advised of the charges against them, the potential penalties, and their rights. If the defendant cannot afford an attorney, one may be appointed by the judge to represent them. A defendant charged with a misdemeanor may plead either guilty, not guilty, no contest, or stand mute. A defendant cannot plead guilty to a felony at their arraignment.
During arraignment, the Saginaw County District Court must order that, pending trial, the defendant be: held in custody if they are charged with certain serious felonies; released on personal recognizance or an unsecured appearance bond; or released conditionally, with or without money bail (10 percent, cash or surety). Bond must be set for all persons charged with misdemeanors. Bond is designed to protect the public and ensure that the defendant appears at all scheduled court proceedings. In setting bond, the judge considers several factors, including the defendant's prior criminal record, record of appearing in past court proceedings, the seriousness of the charge(s), the presence of abuse or threats, and the defendant's ties to the local community.
6) Preliminary Examination (Felony Cases Only)
The preliminary examination is held in the Saginaw County District Court and must be scheduled within 21 days of the arraignment. At the preliminary examination, our office is required to establish that there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed each of the felonies listed in the complaint. This is done through witnesses, exhibits and other relevant evidence. If we meet this probable cause standard of proof, the defendant is bound over to stand trial in the Saginaw County Circuit Court. If the prosecution fails to meet this standard of proof, the charges may be dismissed, or the defendant may proceed to trial in the Saginaw County District Court on any remaining misdemeanor charges. The 21-day requirement and the preliminary examination are the defendant's rights that they may choose to waive. If the defendant does waive their right to a preliminary examination, they are bound over for trial in Circuit Court.
7) Pre-Trial Hearings
Between the time of arraignment and trial, it is procedurally required that all associated issues in the case be resolved through the use of motion hearings. These motions are generally brought by the defendant and seek to review the sufficiency of the charges or to determine evidentiary issues such as whether evidence was seized illegally or whether the police had probable cause to stop a vehicle.
8) Trial or Plea
The defendant may plead guilty or proceed to trial before a judge or jury. Our office is required to prove the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If the defendant is convicted, they are referred to the local Michigan Department of Corrections office (felony cases) or to the Saginaw County District Court Probation Department (misdemeanor cases) for a presentence investigation report prior to sentencing. A sentencing recommendation is then made to the judge; however, the judge is not obligated to follow the recommendation.
A hearing is conducted at which time the judge imposes the sentence. A sentence may include probation, fines, costs, restitution, community service and jail or prison time. Victims generally have an opportunity to deliver a victim’s impact statement at the defendant’s sentencing.
Appeals from the District Court are heard in the Circuit Court. Appeals from the Circuit Court or Probate Court are heard in the Michigan Court of Appeals. Appeals of Court of Appeals decisions are heard in the Michigan Supreme Court.
There are three kinds of appeals: (1) interlocutory, (2) of right, and (3) by leave. An interlocutory appeal occurs when a party tries to appeal a judge's decision before the case has come to trial or before a trial is finished. An appeal of right occurs after a final order has been entered by the trial court (either a sentencing order or an order dismissing the charge). An amendment to the Michigan Constitution has eliminated most appeals of right when a defendant pleads guilty. An appeal by leave of the court occurs when an appeal of right is not available (e.g., because an available appeal of right was not filed on time). The appellate court has the discretion to reject the appeal or can “grant leave,” which means they agree to review arguments on the appeal.