In part 1 of this article, we began our examination of what makes a felony different than a misdemeanor in Michigan. We saw that one key distinction is the maximum possible penalty that can be imposed, and that a misdemeanor can never be punishable by more than 1 year in jail, whereas a felony carries a potential prison sentence of any number of years. We then distinguished jail, where a person can be housed for no more than 1 year, from prison, where a person will usually remain for at least a year and a day. We then began to explore the differences between how a felony and misdemeanor charges are handled, at least at the early stages, in court. We saw how a felony charge is “tested” in the district court at the preliminary examination stage. We’ll pick up there:
At a preliminary exam, the prosecutor will call some witnesses. This usually includes the arresting and/or investigating police officer, a victim, if there was one, and maybe a key eyewitness. Not everyone needs to testify at this phase of the case. Remember, this isn’t a trial, and the prosecutor doesn’t have to prove anything like guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but merely that there is a debatable question of fact that the defendant committed the charged crime. In that sense, “he-said, she-said” is more than good enough for a case to survive the probable cause test at this stage.
Another way to think about this is that all the prosecutor has to do, really, is show the Judge that the case against someone is not BS. In other words, unless the district Judge would feel comfortable saying something like, “this charge is baloney,” then the case will be allowed to continue to the circuit court. On the other hand, if the Judge can say something like he or she finds no evidence that a crime was committed or a law was broken (this rarely happens), or, that he or she cannot find that there is at least an open question that the person charged with the crime did, in fact do it, then the matter will be dismissed.