Your Grand Rapids Criminal Case: The Basics

Your daughter was home for the holidays and met up with some of her old high school buddies at The Back Forty Saloon to hear some live music. You were concerned about the amount she was drinking lately and not all that pleased to hear she was still in touch with those friends that you had always considered a bad influence, but decided to bite your tongue. You were in a deep sleep by the time the phone call came in -- she and her friends had been arrested! That gang had gotten in trouble before, but never with the police. What happens now? What should you expect? Here is some basic information to help you navigate through a criminal case in Grand Rapids and Kent County.

Who's Involved?

Typically, in a criminal case, the first encounter will be with law enforcement officers from the Grand Rapids Police Department, the Kent County Sheriff's Department, or the Michigan State Police.

The case will likely be prosecuted by the Kent County Prosecuting Attorney and, if you are charged with a felony and have limited income, might be defended by the Kent County Office of the Defender. You'll also go to court. Misdemeanor cases are typically heard in the District Court, while felonies are generally handled in Circuit Court.

You might spent some time in custody in the Kent County Correctional Facility at 701 Ball Avenue NE or even one of the Michigan Department of Corrections prisions.

How Crimes Are Classified

Crimes are typically classified as either felonies or misdemeanors. Felonies are generally considered the more serious crimes for which the punishment is more severe, whereas misdemeanors are the relatively lesser crimes. The Michigan Penal Code defines a felony as an offense that is punishable by death or imprisonment in a state prison and a misdemeanor as an act or omission other than a felony that is punishable by a fine, penalty or forfeiture, or imprisonment.

How a crime is classified generally dictates which type of court it is tried in, and has other procedural (and substantive) consequences as well.

How A Criminal Case Starts

The first activity is typically the arrest, which happens when an officer observes a crime, has probable cause to believe one has been committed, or has an arrest warrant.

Next, you will likely be "booked." This is the process during which information about you is gathered and you are photographed, searched, and fingerprinted.

You might be released on your "personal recognizance," which means that you promise to appear in court and don't have to pay any money to be released, or you may have to post money or property for a bond (essentially a promise backed by money that you will return).

You can refer to the Kent County Inmate Lookup page to search for inmate information and instructions on how to post a bond. You may also call 616-632-6301 to find out an arrestee's bond amount.

Court Appearances

The first hearing is generally the arraignment. This is when the charges are read against you, you are asked whether you need an attorney, and you are advised of future court dates. If bond was not previously set, it will be at this time.

Your next appearance will likely be either a pretrial conference (misdemeanor) or preliminary hearing/examination (felony). A preliminary hearing is basically when the prosecutor presents its case against you and the judge determines whether there is enough evidence to make you stand trial. If the judge decides that there is, your case will typically be transferred to the Circuit Court for all further proceedings.

Many times, cases are resolved by "plea bargain" prior to any trial taking place. In these cases, you would typically plead guilty to a lesser offense and would get a reduced sentence or dismissal of certain charges in return.

If you plead guilty or are convicted, you will proceed to sentencing. Depending on the circumstances, you may be eligible for an alternative sentencing program (note that the 61st District Court has its own program which you may reach at 616-632-5648).

While the information above is general in nature, anyone who is arrested or who is looking for information on a particular case may want to contact a local criminal law attorney to get answers and legal information specific to their circumstances

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

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