Circuit Court Arraignment
After the case is sent to Circuit Court, the defendant is again arraigned (given formal notice of the charges against him or her). The charging document is called an Information. He or she is again advised of his/her constitutional rights, and enters a plea to the charge (guilty, not guilty or stand mute).
A Circuit Court meeting takes place between an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney and the defendant’s attorney to determine whether the case will go to trial or be resolved with a plea.
As with District Court misdemeanors, the Circuit Court Judge may be asked to resolve pre-trial issues, some of which determine whether the case will continue to a trial, be resolved with a plea, or be dismissed.
Trial (Jury or Bench/Judge)
A trial is an adversary proceeding in which the Prosecutor must present evidence to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant is not required to prove his or her innocence or to present any evidence, but may challenge the accuracy of the Prosecutor’s evidence. Both the defendant and the Prosecutor (representing the People of the State of Michigan) have the right to a trial by a jury. Sometimes, both sides agree to let a Judge listen to the evidence and decide the case without a jury; this is called a “bench trial”. In a jury trial, the jury is the “trier of fact”; in a bench trial, the judge is. After the evidence is presented, the judge or a jury will determine whether the evidence proved that the defendant committed the crime. Here is a general outline of the steps in a jury trial:
1. Residents of Macomb County are randomly selected from a Secretary of State list of licensed drivers, and are summoned to the Court as potential jurors; a blind draw selects twelve people from that group in felonies (six in District Court misdemeanors); the Judge, Prosecutor and defense attorney question the jurors about their backgrounds and beliefs (see voir dire); the attorneys are permitted a limited number of “peremptory”challenges to various jurors (or an unlimited number of challenges for good cause); after twelve (or six) acceptable jurors remain, the Judge administers an oath to the jury and reads basic instructions about the trial process, etc.; the Prosecutor gives an opening statement to outline his case and evidence to the jury; the defense may give a similar opening statement, or wait until later in the trial; the Prosecutor calls his witnesses, which the defense may cross examine; the People close their proofs; the defense may call witnesses, if it wants, and the Prosecutor may cross-examine them; the defense rests; the Prosecutor may present “rebuttal” witnesses/evidence to challenge evidence presented by the defendant during his proofs; the Prosecutor rests; the Prosecutor presents a closing summary to the jury; the defense attorney presents a closing summary to the jury; the Prosecutor may present a rebuttal argument to the jury to respond to the defendant’s attorney’s closing summary; the judge gives the jury detailed legal instructions about the charged crimes, the deliberation process, etc.;
2. The jury deliberates and returns a verdict.
Pre-Sentence Investigation and Report
The court’s probation department prepares a report for the judge summarizing the crime, and the defendant’s personal and criminal backgrounds. Generally, the victim is contacted for a recommendation of sentence. The probation officer concludes the report with a recommended sentence.
Sentencing in Michigan varies with the crime and can be the most confusing part of the criminal process. Most often, sentences are at the judge’s discretion. At the time of sentencing, the judge will consider the information in the pre-sentence report before determining the sentence. The parties may correct factual errors in the pre-sentence report and offer additional evidence relevant to the judge’s sentencing decision. For certain felony crimes, the judge will consult the “sentencing guidelines” (established by the Michigan Supreme Court as a reference for framing an appropriate sentence throughout the state, considering factors of the crime and the defendant’s criminal background) to determine the minimum jail/prison sentence. The judge may consider different alternatives, such as a fine, probation, community service, a sentence to jail or prison, or a combination. The judge must also order the defendant to make restitution to any victims who have suffered financial harm.