Frequently Asked Questions

Being accused of a crime is undoubtedly stressful. To try and ease one of the major sources of stress for clients and their families, the team at Chartier & Nyamfukudza, P.L.C. have used their years of successfully defending clients to provide answers to some common questions. Because each case is unique, please discuss with your attorneys any questions that you have about your case.

What is a district court arraignment?

An arraignment in district court is the first step of the formal legal process after a person has been charged with a crime. When a person has been criminally charged, they are brought in front of a judge in district court. An arraignment takes place for misdemeanors and felonies. Every person has the right to an attorney at this stage in the legal process.

The judge will usually begin by confirming that the court has the appropriate personal information for the person accused, including name, date of birth, address, and phone number. Next, the judge will read from—or sometimes summarize—the complaint. The complaint is a document that lists the criminal charges being brought against the person. This includes where the alleged crime happened, the date it happened, and a brief description of the offense. The complaint also explains the maximum penalty for the criminal charges. After the judge reads out loud from the complaint, the judge will ask the person if he or she understands the criminal charges and the potential penalty. The person should simply answer this question and avoid saying anything on the record about the case.

The judge will then ask the person, or their attorney, to enter a plea on the matter. The three options are a plea of guilty, a plea of not guilty or standing mute to the charge. If a person chooses to stand mute, a plea of not guilty will be entered. Once this step is complete, the judge will determine the bond conditions. Bond is what allows the person to not have to stay in jail pending the resolution of the criminal matter. Click here to learn more about what factors the judge considers when determining bond.

What factors does a judge use to determine bond?

When a person is charged with a crime and appears in front of a judge for the first time in a case, the judge must make a decision about whether to order the person to be jailed while the charges are pending or whether to release the person on bond. If the judge decides to release the person, the judge will then decide on the terms and conditions of that release. The words “bail” and “bond” are often used interchangeably when discussing jail release, but while they are closely related to each other, they are not the same thing. Bail is the money a person must pay to get out of jail. A bond is posted on a person’s behalf, usually by a bail bond company, to secure the person's release. Sometimes the judge sets a bond that is one of “personal recognizance,” or a “PR bond,” which means the person is released on the basis of a promise to appear at future court proceedings. Importantly, it also means that the person does not pay any money unless he or she violates the terms and conditions set by the judge. Other options are a “cash” or surety bond, where cash is paid for the bond amount or a person pays a percentage to a bail bond company who then posts the bond with the court, or a 10% bond, where a portion of the bond is posted with the court.

In deciding what terms and conditions to impose, the judge considers several factors about the person, most of which have to do with determining whether the person may be a threat to the public and whether the person is at risk to try and flee the jurisdiction. The court rules in Michigan define factors to be used by a judge to determine bond. MCR 6.106(f)(1)lists the factors as follows:

  1.  the person’s prior criminal record, including any juvenile offenses;
  2.  the person’s record of appearances or nonappearances at other court proceedings, including for example, whether a person has appeared in court to pay parking or speeding tickets, or any prior attempts to flee to avoid prosecution in any previous criminal cases;
  3.  the person’s history, if any, of substance abuse or addiction;
  4.  the person’s mental condition or health, including the person’s character and whether he or she has a dangerous reputation;
  5.  the seriousness of the offense the person has been charged with, the presence or absence of threats by the person, and the probability of conviction and the likely sentence for the crime charged;
  6.  the person’s employment status and history, as well as the person’s financial history insofar as it relates to the person’s ability to post money bail;
  7.  the availability of responsible members of the community who would vouch for or monitor the person;
  8.  facts indicating the person’s ties to the community including family ties and relationships, and the length of the person’s residence; and,
  9.  any other factors that might bear on the risk of nonappearance or danger to the public.

It is these last two factors that are the most critical to any judge: 1) Whether the person is at risk for failure to appear for future court proceedings; and, 2) Whether the person represents a danger to the public.

It’s important to work closely with your attorney and provide the information requested by your attorney so that the best case can be presented for release with the lowest bond possible.

What is a preliminary examination?

The primary purpose of a preliminary examination is for the judge to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that a felony occurred and that the accused is the person who committed it. The judge must dismiss the charges in question if the government fails to meet that standard of proof. Bind over happens when the government meets that standard of proof for both questions. A bind over means that the case will not be dismissed by the district court and will proceed in front of a different judge in circuit court. A preliminary examination is not available in cases where only misdemeanor charges have been issued.

At a preliminary examination, the government has to present witnesses to support its case. The defense will also have the opportunity to question those witnesses. This is not a trial, so it is a much shorter proceeding. The defense does not have to present any witnesses and often does not.

Every single case is unique. So, the decision to run or waive preliminary examination should only be made after careful consideration of the facts and applicable case law. Notably, even if the defense decides to not hold the examination, the government must also waive its right to run the preliminary examination for an effective waiver to occur.

Holding a preliminary examination allows the defense to challenge and preserve witness testimony. It also gives the defense the opportunity to obtain leads for investigation. Sometimes the government may add additional charges on the basis of testimony elicited during the preliminary examination. Still, the benefits can often outweigh the risks associated with running a preliminary examination. But, again, each case is different and the decision to run or waive a preliminary examination must be carefully considered.

What is a district court probable cause conference?

A district court probable cause conference is a time for the defense attorney and the attorney for the government to talk about matters that relate to the case. This often includes the scheduling of the next court date. It also includes discussions about discovery, which is when the government provides documents that it believes support the charges, and any discovery items that are still needed. These discussions may initially occur off the record, with the substance of the discussions then placed on the record in a court proceeding. Other times, a court may require that a form be filled out instead of placing the discussion on the record. Still other times, the discussions are informal and not placed on the record at all. Every judge handles these matters differently.