On both my website and in this Blog we have discussed the difference between Misdemeanor and Felony Cases, and examined various aspects of each in detail. This article will be more of an "overview" post, providing a look at how the various parts of a Misdemeanor case fit together. The next article will, in turn, examine How a Michigan Felony Case Works.
In my nearly 20 years as a Criminal Defense Lawyer, I have handled pretty much every kind of Misdemeanor there is, and even some I didn't know existed. What follows is an explanation of the procedure that is common to all Misdemeanor Cases, at least in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties, where I practice.
Most, but not all Misdemeanor Cases begin with an Arrest. Depending on the usual procedure of any given Court, and/or the type of Charge, a person can be taken to the Police Station, processed, and released without having posted any Bond, or after having posted a small, nominal Bond. In other cases, particularly DUI matters, the person may be held until they are sober enough to be released. Still other Courts require anyone arrested to be brought before a Judge or Magistrate (sometimes this is done by video from the Jail or Police Station) to be formally Arraigned on whatever charge or charges they face, and have the Bond, and it's attendant Conditions, set.
Sometimes, a person will not be arrested, but given a Citation (Ticket). The Citation will advise them as to when they should contact the Court. In other cases, a person will not even be given a Citation, but will be told that they'll receive something in the mail. This means that they will either be notified to appear directly, in Court, or to go to the Police Station to be "booked."
Whether by Arrest, or Court Notice or notification to first appear at the Police Station, there is usually no doubt when a person has been formally charged with a Misdemeanor.
A Pre-Trial is the first Substantive (i.e. important) proceeding in a Misdemeanor Case. Sometimes, certain Courts will combine the Arraignment and Pre-Trial proceedings on the same date.
Either way, the Pre-Trial is an opportunity for the Defense Lawyer to meet with the Prosecutor and discuss whether there might be a way to work the case out without having to go through a full-blown Jury Trial. The goal, or course, is for each side to compromise a little and hopefully come to an agreement that is fair to both sides, which usually means some kind of Plea Bargain.
Pre-Trials can produce many outcomes, from a decision to Adjourn the case and come back and discuss it later, to a Plea Bargain which resolves it, to the setting down of the Case for a formal Trial, either by Jury, or the Judge alone (Bench Trial).
All Criminal cases are resolved in a few ways. Most of the time, there is a Plea Bargain. Less frequently, the matter is set for Trial, and that Trial results in either a "Guilty" or "Not Guilty" Verdict. Once in a while a case is not strong enough to proceed and results in the whole thing being dismissed.
A dismissal or a Verdict of "Not Guilty" means the Defendant, the person charged with the Offense, is now free of the Charge. Nothing more happens; the Case is dead. Bond money (if any) is returned, and the file is closed.
When there is a Plea Bargain, or a Verdict of Guilt, the next phase is the Sentencing. Depending on the Charge, the Judge may decide to Sentence the person right on the spot, at the time they either enter a Plea or are convicted. In other cases, like DUI, where a mandatory alcohol screening must, by law, be completed, with the results and recommendation of the Screener forwarded to the Judge before Sentencing can occur, or, if not required by law, simply because the Judge wants to, the Sentencing will be scheduled for a future Court date. The Sentencing is where whatever will happen to the Defendant actually happens. This means that if there is Punishment, it is imposed at Sentencing. Same thing for Probation, Fines, Costs, Classes, and whatever else the Judge decides to require.
Most Defendants who hire a good Lawyer are kept out of Jail in most Misdemeanor cases. Of course, a person with a lengthy Criminal Record, or who happens to wind up with a Case in a "super-tough" Court faces doing some time. By definition and law, a Misdemeanor is only punishable by a Jail term, meaning less than 1 year behind bars. A person cannot go to Prison (meaning the State Prison, where Sentences begin at a year and go up to life) except for a Felony conviction.
Misdemeanors can range from Local Ordinance Violations that carry a maximum penalty of up to 90 days in Jail to State Law Violations that carry up to 1 year in Jail. Fines and Costs and Driver's License Sanctions vary depending on the wording of the Ordinance or Law, and different Courts can impose very different sentences for the same offense. This means that a person who might walk out of one Court for a 2nd Offense DUI will absolutely go to Jail if the case is pending in one of the "super-tough" Courts. And the Fines and Costs likewise run the gamut from relatively small, with tie to pay liberally granted, to very high, with no time to pay.
This article provides what I believe to be a general and abbreviated overview of how Misdemeanors work. Within the body of this article I have included various links to information either on my website, or various Blog articles I have written, each of which more fully discusses and explains the terms linked.