At a misdemeanor arraignment, the defendant will be given a change to enter a plea to the charge: guilty, not guilty or stand mute (i.e. remain silent, which is treated by the court as if the defendant plead not guilty).  If he pleads guilty or no contest, the Judge may sentence him on the port or may reschedule the case for a sentencing date, which will give the probation department time to prepare a presentencing report including background information about the defendant and the crime, make a sentencing recommendation, etc.  If the defendant stands mute or pleads not guilty, the case will be scheduled for a pre-trial conference in about three weeks.

Pretrial conference – In traffic and non-traffic misdemeanor cases, this is the defendant’s second court appearance.  It is a scheduled meeting between the Prosecuting Attorney and the defendant (or his attorney) to determine whether the case will go to trial or be resolved with a plea.  This meeting focuses on resolving the case short of trial.  If a plea offer is going to be offered by the Prosecutor, it is done here.  If the defendant is unrepresented, he/she should arrive at the Prosecuting Attorney’s office at 8:30 a.m. on the date of the scheduled hearing to meet with the prosecutor.  The defendant and Prosecutor will go in front of the judge on that day to inform the Court of the status of the case.

Status conference – This is similar to a pretrial conference, but it is the last meeting between the defendant (or counsel) and the prosecuting attorney to enter into a plea agreement.

Trial (Jury or Bench/Judge) – A trial is an adversary proceeding in which the Prosecutor must present evidence to prove the defendant’s guilty 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 have the right to a trial by a jury.  In a misdemeanor case, the jury will consist of 6 people.  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 Montmorency County are randomly selected from a Secretary of State list of licensed drivers and are summoned to the Court as potential jurors;

2.     A blind draw selects six people from that group.

3.     The Judge, Prosecutor and defense attorney question the jurors about their backgrounds and beliefs (see voir dire);

4.     The attorneys are permitted a limited number of “peremptory” challenges to various jurors (or an unlimited number of challenges for good cause).  Peremptory challenges can be used for any reason and the attorneys are not required to say why they are excusing a juror.

5.     After six acceptable jurors remain, the Judge administers an oath to the jury and reads the basic instructions about the trial process, etc.

6.     The Prosecutor gives an opening statement to outline his case and evidence to the jury;

7.     The defense may give a similar opening statement, or wait until later in the trial;

8.     The Prosecutor calls his witnesses, which the defense may cross examine;

9.     The People close their proofs;

10.            The defense may call witnesses, if it wants, and the Prosecutor may cross-examine them;

11.            The defense rests;

12.            The Prosecutor may present “rebuttal” witnesses/evidence to challenge evidence presented by the defendant during his proofs;

13.            The Prosecutor rests;

14.            The Prosecutor presents a closing summary to the jury;

15.            The defense attorney presents a closing statement to the jury;

16.            The Prosecutor may present a rebuttal argument to the jury to respond to the defendant’s attorney’s closing summary;

17.            The Judge gives the jury detailed legal instructions about the charged crime, the deliberation process, etc.

18.            The jury deliberated 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.


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. 


Appeals – Appeals from the District Court are heard by the 26th Circuit Court Judge.