At a misdemeanor arraignment, the defendant will be given a chance to enter a plea to the charge: plead guilty, not guilty, no contest, or stand mute (i.e., remain silent, which is treated by the court as if the defendant pled not guilty). If he pleads guilty or no contest, the Judge may sentence him on the spot or may reschedule the case for a sentencing date, which will give the probation department time to prepare a pre-sentence 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.
It is a scheduled meeting between an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney and the defendant (or the defendant’s attorney) to determine whether the case will go to trial or be resolved with a plea. These meetings focus on resolving the case short of trial. The Judge and witnesses are not involved at this point. If a plea bargain is going to be offered by the Prosecutor, it is done here.
Many other events can occur prior to trial. Depending on the nature of the case, there may be pre-trial hearings on Constitutional issues (confessions, searches, identification, etc.). The issues are presented to the Court through written "motions" (e.g., Motion to Suppress Evidence, etc.). The judge must determine whether evidence will be admitted or suppressed at the defendant's trial, whether there is some legal reason why the defendant should not be tried, or decide other ground rules for trial.
At a felony arraignment in District Court, the defendant does not plead guilty or not guilty. He is advised of his right to a preliminary examination within 14 days of the arraignment. The court reviews requests for court-appointed attorneys at the arraignment.
A contested hearing before a District Court Judge, sometimes called a "probable cause hearing". The Prosecutor presents witnesses to convince the Judge that there is probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and that the defendant committed the crime. Because the burden of proof is much less than at a trial, the Prosecutor generally does not call all potential witnesses to testify at the "prelim"; generally, the victim and some eye witnesses plus some of the police witnesses testify. The defendant has an attorney, can cross examine the witnesses, and can present his own evidence (including witnesses). If probable cause is proven, the defendant is "bound over" that is, sent to Circuit Court for trial. If probable cause is not proven, the felony charge can be dismissed or reduced to a misdemeanor for trial in District Court. A defendant can decide not to have a Preliminary Examination, in which case the matter automatically is filed in the Circuit Court.
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 between the 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.
Open felony cases that are awaiting trial are scheduled for a status conference, held each month. For each status conference scheduled, potential trial dates are identified. Each conference results in between one and three cases that will be tried on the dates that have been selected already. The remaining cases may be resolved by a guilty plea, or will remain open to be placed on a future status conference schedule.
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 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.
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. Often, sentences (especially in District Court) 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. For felony crimes, the judge will consult the "sentencing guidelines" a process which includes facts of the offense and a prior criminal background to determine the minimum jail or 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.