Arraignment, Bail/Bond, Preliminary Exam, Pre-Trial, Trial and Sentencing

Before we even get into the different types of Criminal Offenses, or the Courts and the roles they play, we need to understand some basic terms of Criminal Procedure. The following is an explanation of some of the more common terms used at the various stages of a Criminal Case. Please note that an explanation of the types of Criminal Offenses is contained in the following section entitled “Felonies and Misdemeanors.”

A Defendant is a person charged with a crime.

Arraignment is the first step in any Criminal Case, whether it is a Misdemeanor or Felony. If you have been arrested, you may likely have already been arraigned before you got out of jail. In some cases, a person is either not arrested, but given a ticket or told that a notice will follow in the mail. In other cases (very often in Drunk Driving Cases) a person will be let out of jail the next morning, sometimes after posting a small bond. Either way, at some point, before a case can formally begin, a person must be arraigned. This simply means that the Defendant is brought before a Judge (or Magistrate) and told exactly what crime they are being charged with, what the penalties are for that crime, and what their Constitutional rights are regarding those charges. In some cases, the Court will have a person read and sign a form called an “Advice of Rights” which lists all of the rights that a person accused of a crime has. These include the right to remain silent, the right to a public and speedy trial, and the right to an attorney.

For some people, especially those charged with Felonies, it is the Bail, or Bond part of the arraignment that is most important, because it’s there that they will learn exactly how much money needs to be put up to get them out of jail. Depending on the seriousness of the crime and the Defendant’s prior criminal record, Bail, or Bond, can be set at any amount, from what is knows as a Personal Bond to any greater amount of money ($100, $1000, $10,0000, $100,000 or ever $1Million dollars). In extremely serious cases, a Judge can deny Bond altogether. Sometimes a Judge will grant a bond with 10% provision, meaning that the Defendant, his or her family, or any Bail Bond Agency they hire will only have to post 10% of the Bond amount. For example, if bond is set at $10,000, 10%, then only $1000 needs to be posted.

A Preliminary Examination is the first stage in a Felony Case, and by law it must be scheduled within 14 days from the date of arraignment. Sometimes called a Probable Cause Hearing, the Preliminary Exam serves two legal purposes. First, if a Preliminary Examination is actually held (as opposed to the far more common practice of waiving it) the Prosecutor has to prove that a crime was committed, or a law broken. Second, the Prosecutor must prove that there is at least probable cause to believe the Defendant committed that crime. Now in practice that really means this: The prosecutor must convince the Judge that it’s likely a crime was committed it, and that there is an honest, at least debatable question of fact that the Defendant committed it. This is what lawyers call a low threshold, or low standard, meaning that the Prosecutor doesn’t have to prove much. In fact, after a Preliminary Exam, unless the Judge is convinced that the case against a Defendant is so weak that it practically screams to be dismissed, the case will undoubtedly be bound over, or transferred, to the Circuit Court.

In practice, such a vast majority of Preliminary Exams are waived that Michigan that in 2005, Attorney General Mike Cox floated a proposal regarding legislation to abolish them. Thankfully, that idea didn’t get off the ground.

Despite Mike Cox’s opposition to the process, the Preliminary Exam stage serves several very important purposes in the handling of a Felony Case. If a Defendant is in Jail, the lawyer can seek to have the Judge reduce the bond so the person can get out. In some cases, the Felony Charge can be reduced to a Misdemeanor and the whole matter concluded in the District Court, without the need for further proceedings in the Circuit Court.

Pre-Trials occur in both Felony and Misdemeanor Cases. In a Misdemeanor Case, the Pre-trial comes after the Arraignment. Some District Courts schedule Defendants for what reads like an “Arraignment/Pre-Trial.” The Pre-Trial is generally the meatiest of all Court proceedings, because it’s where the Defense Attorney and the Prosecutor discuss ways to resolve a pending charge. Often, a Plea-Bargain, or reduction of the original charge to one less serious, is produced. There can be more than one Pre-Trial hearing in any given case.

In a Felony Case, the Pre-Trial is held after the Preliminary Exam, usually within two weeks, and is the first hearing in the Circuit Court, where Felony Cases are handled.

A Trial, while perhaps the most complex of legal proceedings is the easiest to describe. A person who believes him or herself innocent of a charge, or a person who believes or hopes that the Prosecutor will not be able to prove him or her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt can have their case decided by Trial. There are two kinds of Trials: Bench Trials, meaning Trials heard by a Judge with no Jury, and Jury Trial, which of course mean Trials heard by a Jury. The end result of a Trial is a Verdict, which means a finding, either by the Jury, or the Judge if there is no Jury, of either guilty or not guilty.

Sentencing is, to most people, the most important part of their case. It is what happens to Defendant; it is the end-result. It is at this final stage that the Judge hearing a person’s case decides their fate. At Sentencing, the Judge orders a Defendant to do certain things, like attend AA, or get drug counseling. In addition, the Judge can order a Defendant to NOT do certain things, like consume any alcohol during the period of Probation, or to not go into bars or establishments whose primary purpose is the serving of alcoholic beverages. At Sentencing, the most important thing that happens is the Judge’s decision whether or not the Defendant serves any Jail or Prison time.

Most convictions or pleas result in Probation. Some Probation Sentences call for the less restrictive, non-reporting kind of probation, and other Probation Sentences call for an initial period of jail. Some Probation Sentences involve having the Defendant under what is known as a “tether” or house arrest. Although Probation can entail many things, it most usually involves no Jail, and requires the Defendant to, amongst other things, report once per month, get or keep a job, and stay out of trouble.

>> Next: Sentencing:  It all Comes Down to This