What can victims expect at each step of the process?
THE LEGAL PROCESS
The following is a brief outline of how a case progresses through the criminal justice system and definition.
1. After an investigation, the police either: (a) make a report and keep it on file, or (b) fill out a complaint/warrant request and submit it and their report to the Prosecuting Attorney for review.
2. When the Prosecuting Attorney reviews the complaint, she/he may (a) authorize charges; (b) deny charges due to lack of evidence to prove that a crime was committed or identity of who committed the crime; or (c) return it to the police for further investigation and resubmission.
3. If the Prosecutor authorizes charges; (a) a warrant is issued by the District Court, and the police attempt to arrest the suspect; (b) Victim’s Rights information is mailed to the victim.
4. Once arrested, the defendant is arraigned on the charges in District Court. At the arraignment, the defendant may plead not guilty, guilty, or no contest. If the judge accepts the defendant’s guilty or no contest plea, a sentencing date is set.
- If the defendant pleads NOT guilty, a pretrial conference is scheduled. If the pretrial conference does not resolve the case with a plea or otherwise, the case is set for either a bench trial or a jury trial. If convicted, the judge sentences the defendant.
6. The probation department sometimes prepares a sentence recommendation. The judge imposes a sentence at a hearing based on information provided by the probation department, the prosecutor, victim, defendant, case facts, defendant’s criminal history, and limits imposed by the Legislature.
The process is the same as misdemeanor case items 1-4, except that the defendant does not enter a plea at the District Court Arraignment. In a felony case, once the defendant has been arraigned, a preliminary examination is set within 14 days of the arraignment.
1. A defendant, with the Prosecuting Attorney’s consent, may waive a Preliminary Exam and be bound over to Circuit Court without an evidentiary hearing. If the defendant or the prosecutor wants the preliminary exam, a hearing is held and testimony is taken. The Prosecuting Attorney has the burden of proving there is probable cause to believe the crime charged was committed and the defendant committed it. If the judge decides the burden has been met, the case is bound over to Circuit Court.
2. The defendant is arraigned on the charges in Circuit Court and may plead not guilty, guilty, or no contest.
3. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the case is set for a pretrial or settlement conference with the defense attorney and the Prosecuting Attorney. If a plea agreement is reached, and a guilty or no-contest plea is entered, the case is sent to the probation department for a pre-sentence investigation and recommendation. A sentencing date is set. If the case cannot be resolved at this time, it proceeds to trial.
4. If the case is set for trial, the victim will receive a subpoena. The victim should appear as scheduled and be
prepared to testify. The prosecutor may want to meet with the victim before the trial date to discuss the case and
prepare him/her for court.
5. If the case goes to trial, the judge or jury listens to the evidence and decides whether the Prosecuting Attorney
has proven beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant committed the crime(s) charged. If the defendant is found
not guilty, the defendant cannot be retried for the same crime. If the jury (or judge in a bench trial) finds the
defendant guilty, the case is sent to the probation department for a pre-sentence investigation and recommendation.
6. A probation agent reviews the case, the defendant’s background and the victim’s impact statement. A written
recommendation is made to the judge regarding an appropriate sentence (including restitution) within the limits
allowed by law.
7. The judge imposes the sentence at a hearing. The prosecutor, victim, defendant and his/her attorney may comment to the court on matters they believe are important regarding the sentencing. The victim is offered anopportunity to speak to the judge about the impact the crime has had on his/her life. Both the Prosecuting Attorney and the defense will address the judge with any concerns/objection they have with the probation department’s sentencing recommendations. The defendant has the opportunity to personally address the court. The judge must weigh the probation department’s information and any other information received by the prosecutor, victim, defendant, case facts, defendant’s criminal history, and limits imposed by the Legislature, including the felony sentencing guidelines, when imposing an appropriate sentence.
- The defendant had the right to appeal a trial-based conviction, and may have the right to appeal the sentence; however, the sentence is often carried out while he/she goes through the appeal process.
PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: Attorney who represents the People of the State of Michigan against a criminal defendant.
ADVOCATE: A person who assists the victim with support, information, resources, etc.
DEFENDANT: The person charged with the crime.
COMPLAINT: The written document that states the criminal charges.
WARRANT: A court’s written order commanding police to bring a person before the court.
VICTIM: A person or entity that suffers direct physical, financial and/or emotional harm, or is threatened as a result of the commission of a crime.
FELONY CASE: A crime for which a person may be sent to prison for more than one year.
MISDEMEANOR CASE: A crime for which a person may be sentenced to not more than one year in jail.
ARRAIGNMENT: The formal reading of charges against a person.
PLEA: The defendant’s response to a criminal charge (guilty, not guilty or no contest).
MOTION: Request for a certain ruling or decision on an issue related to a case.
BAIL OR BOND: The purpose of bail or bond is to insure the defendant’s appearance for future court appearances, and to enhance public safety. Bail is generally an amount of money and/or conditions of release set by the court (e.g., no contact with victim).
NO CONTEST: A type of plea used when the defendant cannot recall his criminal actions or may be sued civilly for his/her criminal conduct. Generally the police report, rather than the defendant’s verbal admissions to the judge, makes up the factual basis for the plea. The defendant is treated by a sentencing judge the same as if he was convicted by a guilty plea or trial verdict.
PLEA BARGAIN: An agreement between parties for the defendant to plead guilty or no-contest under certain terms and conditions (reducing/dismissing charges, agreeing to terms of sentence, etc.), subject to the judge’s approval.
PRELIMINARY EXAM: A District Court hearing in felony cases to determine if there is probable cause to believe a felony has been committed and the defendant committed the crime.
PRETRIAL CONFERENCE: An informal meeting between the Prosecutor and defendant or his/her attorney to resolve the case.
SETTLEMENT CONFERENCE: An informal meeting with the Prosecutor, defendant or his/her attorney and the judge to resolve the case or discuss trial issues.
PRE-SENTENCE INVESTIGATION: A probation department’s review of a convicted offender’s personal and criminal background. The victim is also consulted on the impact the crime has had upon his/her life and what the victim feels the sentence should include. A report is prepared and read by the judge before sentencing.
PROBATION: A sentence where a defendant’s life activities are supervised by the court.
WAIVE: To give up a right.
BENCH TRIAL: Trial before a judge without a jury.
SUBPOENA: A court order directing a person to be present at a time and place for a court hearing.
RESTITUTION: An amount of money, determined by the court, to be paid to a crime victim for property loss or injuries caused by the defendant’s criminal acts.. Michigan crime victims have both constitutional and statutory rights to restitution.
ADJOURNMENT: Postponement until a late date, at the defendant’s, judge’s, or prosecuting attorney’s request. Adjournments happen for many reasons: witnesses, attorney or defendant have scheduling conflicts or are ill; an older case may be heard that day; necessary motions or legal issues have not been decided, etc.
BOUND OVER: The District Court transfers a felony cast to the Circuit Court after a preliminary examination or a waiver.
PERJURY: A deliberate lie or untruth regarding a material fact made under oath.
APPEAL: The process of having a higher court review the lower court’s decisions and /or rulings.