Stacey M. Washington, Attorney and CounselorAttorney and Counselor
Protect Your Rights, Call or Email Me Today.

How the Criminal Justice System Works in Michigan

michigan criminal justice system.jpg

Countless individuals are arrested and charged with crimes on a daily basis throughout Michigan. Being charged with a crime can be a troubling experience. This is largely due to most people not knowing what will happen to them when they are arrested and charged for a crime in Michigan. Read on to learn more about how the criminal justice system works in Michigan. 

Lawful Arrest

The first stage of Michigan's criminal justice system occurs when you are detained and/or arrested by law enforcement. An arrest occurs when you are taken into custody by the police and you are not free to leave. The police must have probable cause to arrest you. Such probable cause may arise from the police believing that you are about to commit, in the process of committing, or have recently committed a misdemeanor or felony crime.

After you are taken into custody and/or lawfully arrested, a police officer must read your Miranda Rights if he or she intends to elicit statements from you to be used against you in court. Your Miranda Rights consist of the following:

  1. You have the right to remain silent;
  2. If you do say anything, what you say will be used against you in the court of law;
  3. You have the right to consult with a attorney and have that attorney present during any questioning;
  4. If you cannot afford a attorney, one will be appointed for you if you so desire; and
  5. If you choose to talk to the police office, you have the right to stop the interview at any time.


Once you are lawfully charged with a crime in Michigan, you will be given a date and time to appear for a criminal arraignment. The arraignment is the first court appearance for any misdemeanor or felony case in Michigan.

At the arraignment, you will be informed of all the charges made against you, potential penalties, and the required bail or bond amount set for your release. The charges against you will depend on the nature of the crime. You may be charged with a felony or misdemeanor.

You will be given a chance to enter a plea to the charge. You may plead guilty, not guilty, no contest, or stand mute. If you plead guilty or no contest, the judge may sentence you on the spot, or reschedule the case for a sentencing date. You may be sentenced by a different judge. If you stand mute, the judge will enter a not guilty plea on your behalf.

If you are charged with a felony, you will usually stand mute or plead not guilty. You will be advised of your right to a preliminary examination within 14 days of the arraignment.

Preliminary Examinations

After the arraignment concludes, the preliminary examination will begin. If you are charged with a felony, you will have a right to a preliminary examination. The preliminary examination is a hearing in which you, your defense counsel, and the prosecutor appear before the District Court judge to determine whether or not there is sufficient probable cause to believe that you committed a crime within the jurisdiction of the District Court. This hearing is not used to determine your guilt, but to establish if the alleged crime occurred within the jurisdiction of the District Court. The prosecutor may also offer a plea or sentence bargain at the preliminary examination.

The preliminary examination may be waived by you or prosecutor. If the probable cause threshold is met, the matter is "bound over" to Circuit Court. If the probable cause threshold is not met, the charge(s) is either dismissed or reduced in severity to a misdemeanor or other charge by the District Court Judge.

Circuit Court Arraignment

If the criminal matter is bound over to Circuit Court, you will undergo another arraignment. You will be read the formal charges against you, statutory penalties, and be given another opportunity to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, no contest, or stand mute.

Pretrial Motions

Before trial commences, your defense attorney and the prosecution may file several pretrial motions. A pretrial motion is a formal written or verbal request made by the prosecutor or your defense attorney to have the judge take a specific action in the case. A common pretrial motion used by a defense attorney is a motion to suppress evidence. This motion is usually granted when a police officer violates your rights and wrongfully obtains incriminating evidence.

Plea bargains are also discussed during this stage of the criminal justice process. The prosecutor may offer to reduce the charges or sentence against you in lieu of you entering a specified plea.

The Trial

Once the pretrial motions are concluded, your case will proceed to trial. Here, a judge or jury will determine whether or not the prosecutor has presented enough evidence to show that you are guilty of the charge(s) against you.

If you are charged with a crime in Michigan, you will have the right to a bench or jury trial. In a jury trial, the judge is the trier of law and the jury is the trier of fact.

During a trial, the prosecutor and defense attorney may make motions as well as present witnesses and other evidence. In a trial, if the prosecutor does not present enough evidence to convict you of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge or jury will return a not guilty verdict. If the judge or jury decides that there is enough evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to convict you, the verdict will be guilty. If the jury cannot reach a decision, a mistrial will be declared and the prosecutor will determine whether or not to seek another trial of your case.

Post-Trial Motions

If you are found guilty of the charge(s) asserted against you, your lawyer may file a motion to set aside the verdict prior to your sentencing. The judge will decide to set your verdict aside or modify it. If the judge sets the verdict aside, the charges against you will be dismissed. The judge may also modify the verdict to conform to the evidence presented and you may receive a reduction of charges against you.


Sentencing in Michigan is based on the type of crime committed. There are sentencing guidelines that judges must follow for felony convictions. Most often, sentences are at the discretion of the judge. Victims are allowed to request a lighter or heavier sentence. You and your defense attorney will also be given a chance to make a statement to the court to request a lighter sentence.


If you have been found guilty by way of trial, your defense attorney may request a higher court to reverse the lower court's decision and set aside the conviction or order a new trial. Appeals from the District Court are heard in the Circuit Court. Appeals from a Circuit Court are heard in the Michigan Court of Appeals. Appeals from the Court of Appeals are heard in the Michigan Supreme Court. Under some circumstances, cases may be appealed to the federal court.

If you or a loved one has been arrested for a crime in Ann Arbor, please contact criminal defense attorney Stacey Washington for a case evaluation. Stacey Washington will help you navigate this difficult situation in your life. Call 734-274-6567 to speak with criminal defense attorney Stacey Washington today.

No Comments

Leave a comment
Comment Information