Your Ann Arbor Criminal Case: The Basics

You had been worried about your brother lately so you had asked him to meet you downtown at his favorite restaurant -- the Chop House. He had been acting withdrawn and flaky and was hanging out with a new crowd you had never even met. You thought maybe you could reconnect over dinner and figure out what was going on. Problem was, he hadn't shown up yet. You tried calling him but kept getting his voicemail. After you waited an hour you were aggravated and worried and decided to just go home. Just then your phone rang -- your brother had been arrested! What do you do? What can you expect? Here we've compiled some basic information to help you when you or a loved one is involved in a criminal case in Ann Arbor.

To begin, you might want to look through the FindLaw section on Criminal Law to get a general overview. Then return here for information geared more specifically toward Michigan and A2.

Introductions

The first folks you are likely to meet in a criminal case in Ann Arbor are law enforcement officers from the Ann Arbor Police Department, the Washtenaw Sheriff's Office or the Michigan State Police.

Time may be spent at the Washentaw County Jail. The case will likely be prosecuted by the Washentaw County Prosecuting Attorney or the Ann Arbor City Attorney (city ordinance violations) and may be tried at the Washtenaw County Trial Court (felonies, high misdemeanors) or the Ann Arbor Justice Center (misdemeanors and traffic violations). (Check here for more information about courthouses in the Ann Arbor area.) Depending on your financial situation, an attorney from the office of the public defender may be appointed to defend you.

How Crimes Are Classified

Crimes are typically categorized as either felonies or misdemeanors. Felonies are the more serious crimes with more severe associated punishments while misdemeanors are relatively less serious. In general, felonies are punishable by more then one year in prison, whereas misdemeanors are punishable by up to one year in jail. (In Michigan there is an exception to this -- the "high" or "circuit court" misdemeanor, which is punishable by more than one year in jail.) How a crime is classified impacts where the case is tried and can also have substantive and procedural implications.

You can refer to these outlines prepared by the Michigan Courts, which briefly describe the misdemeanor and felony case processes in the state. They illustrate in more detail the somewhat different paths cases take depending on what type of crime you are accused of committing.

Arrest, Booking and Bail

Following arrest, you may be taken to the Washentaw County Jail for booking. This is the process by which information about you is entered into the system, and fingerprints and mug shots are taken. Depending on the specifics of your case, you may be required to post bail to be released from custody or you may be released on your own promise to appear back in court.

You may check Washentaw County Jail's online resource for inmate information, including visitation and bond details.

Court Hearings

The first court appearance is typically the arraignment. This first appearance will be heard in district court whether you have been accused of committing a felony or misdemeanor. Generally this is when the charges are read, the defendant is advised of his right to an attorney and all parties are notified of future court dates. If you have been charged with a misdemeanor you will usually be asked for your plea. You may plead guilty, not guilty or remain silent. If you do not plead guilty, your next hearing will typically be a pretrial conference.

If you have been accused of committing a felony, a preliminary hearing will be set within 14 days. If the judge determines that there is enough evidence to force you to stand trial, the case will be transferred to circuit court. You will have a second arraignment in circuit court at which time you will typically be asked to enter your plea. If you do not plead guilty, your next hearing will usually be a pretrial conference.

The case may proceed to trial in which case the prosecutor must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury is typically composed of 12 jurors in felony cases and 6 in misdemeanors.

It is also possible that the case might resolve by plea bargain, which basically means that you plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence or dismissal of some charges.

After conviction or a guilty plea, sentencing (legal punishment) will be addressed. This could include incarceration, fines, or probation.

Attorneys

Criminal cases can be complicated and emotional experiences and a criminal conviction can impact your life long after the crime is committed. You may determine that it is in your best interest to retain a defense attorney to represent you. Check here for information about Using a Criminal Lawyer.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.