Michigan Criminal Lawyer Blog

Articles Posted in Domestic Violence

IMAGE Criminal_justice_system1

This blog is long overdue. In this blog I will attempt to explain the reasons that make it so difficult to get a domestic violence dropped or dismissed.

The Prosecutor Represents the People of Michigan or Municipality Where the Offense Occurred

First of all, it is important to understand that once a criminal case is pursued, the prosecutor represents the people or public at large for a specific jurisdiction. County Prosecutors have authority to pursue criminal cases on behalf of the “People of Michigan”. City or township prosecutors have authority to prosecute those that are accused of committing ordinance violations within their jurisdiction. Federal criminal cases are prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office. For this reason, the court title of any criminal case is:

• People of Michigan (plaintiff) vs. John Doe (defendant), or,
• People of Shelby Township (plaintiff) vs. John Doe (defendant), or,
• People of the City of Sterling Heights (plaintiff) vs. John Doe (defendant).
• For Federal cases: United States of America (plaintiff) vs. John Doe (defendant)

Every criminal case is pursued on behalf of the people within that jurisdiction by the appropriate prosecuting official or city attorney hired by a municipality or township. The victim of a criminal case is not named as the plaintiff or a party to the case. The victim is named as a witness and later can be subpoenaed as a witness to testify against a defendant in a case which is being pursued on behalf of the people.

Why Won’t the Prosecutor Dismiss a Domestic Violence Case When the Victim Wants it Dropped

As I stated in another article, the party pressing domestic violence charges may immediately have regrets and want to get it dropped. Since most domestic violence cases start out with a frantic 911 call when tempers are flaring, the person making the call rarely knows or understands the ramifications to the other party until later. A domestic violence conviction can label the victim’s spouse or significant other as a violent person which triggers legal entanglements and loss of valuable rights (inability to get a concealed weapons permit, inability to travel across international border to Canada). Unfortunately, getting the case dropped is not easy.

The policy to prosecute those accused of domestic violence/assault is something that has evolved over many years. In my opinion, the issue of domestic violence/assault became a national issue following the Michigan case of People of Michigan vs. Francine Hughes. Ms Hughes was charged with murder after setting her ex-husband’s bedroom on fire in 1977. Her attorney argued self-defense. The jury, who was moved by her circumstances as a battered spouse and the victim of physical violence for several years, found her not guilty. In 1984, the case was profiled in a movie, “The Burning Bed“, starring Farrah Fawcett, which is credited as being influential in the way domestic violence cases are handled.

Now, public policy is a strong factor in the prosecution of domestic violence cases. There are several governmental agencies involved in the criminal process when someone is charged with domestic violence/assault. The government agencies that I am referring to are the police, prosecutor and the judge. Behind the scenes, the government also employs victim’s rights advocates and probation officers. The victim’s rights advocate becomes involved immediately to promote the rights of the victim during a pending criminal case. The probation department becomes involved to make sentence recommendations and monitor a defendant after a guilty plea or verdict. All of these government agencies are usally located within the same building or government complex. All of these government agencies, with the exception of the court, are aligned on the side of law enforcement/prosecution; not on the side of the accused.

The Role of the Police in Domestic Violence/Assault Cases
Let’s talk about the role of the police, or first responders, to a domestic violence call. Long gone are the days when the police made a domestic call to a residence and let the alleged perpetrator go to the corner bar to cool off. The police can no longer make judgment calls as to who is right and who is wrong when they investigate domestic violence cases. Once an allegation of an assault is made (any intentional touching of another without consent), an arrest will occur. There is no such thing anymore as getting the case dropped on the spot. The reason for this attitude is based upon several valid grounds. First of all, the function of the police is to investigate and report their findings to the prosecutor, not determine guilt or innocence. Second of all, the police fear that a serious injury or death may occur should they fail to take action by removing the alleged suspect from the premises. Lastly, the police face serious criticism and potential liability if they fail to act and a party is later injured or killed. Therefore, public policy favors an arrest and issuance of a “no contact order” as an interim bond condition.

The Role of the Prosecutor
The police take their investigative report to the prosecutor for review. It is the prosecutor that authorizes the criminal case against the accused party. The county prosecutors in Michigan are elected officials. As an elected official, it is in their best interest to show the public that they are tough on crime. Again, the public can be critical in situations when a prosecutor is weak on crime or easily drops cases. For this reason, prosecutors will object to a dismissal motion by defense counsel when a victim a victim fails to appear in court. Some prosecutors will go to great lengths to track down an uncooperative victim. Like the police, the prosecutor’s office needs to avoid scandal and any scenario where someone is injured or killed because of a failure of the system to protect the public. Upon authorizing criminal charges, the case is turned over to the court system for criminal legal proceedings. Misdemeanor domestic violence/assault cases are handled in the district courts.

The Role of the Judge and Court
Once a case is in the court system, a judge is assigned to the case. Judges, like prosecutors, are elected officials in the State of Michigan. The judge’s role in a criminal case is to keep order, control the proceedings make rulings on evidence and answer motions or requests by the parties. In theory, a judge is impartial and does not concern himself or herself with the dispute between the parties. In some cases, a defendant may want the judge to act as the trier of fact without a jury. This is called a waiver trial or bench trial. This would empower the judge, acting alone, to render a verdict of guilty or not guilty. However, a person charged with a crime may not have a choice in the matter because either the prosecutor or judge may force a jury trial even when a defendant is willing to waive the same. In my opinion, judges tend to favor jury trials in cases with strong public policy, the presence of the media or where a certain verdict (by a judge without a jury) could subject the court to disapproval.

The Role of a Lawyer in Domestic Violence Cases
If you have been following along, then you should realize:

The police pass the case up to the prosecuting attorney. The prosecuting attorney then passes the case up to the court. The victim’s right advocate is a watchdog and acts as a voice for the victim. The court can decline to accept the role as the trier of fact the case and pass the case along to a jury. Nobody knows what a jury will decide. Should a defendant plead guilty or be found guilty, the court passes the case to the probation department.

The scales of justice are heavily weighted in favor of the prosecution in criminal proceedings. Police, prosecutors and judges want to avoid censure, avoid liability and remain popular in the eyes of the public. The people that are selected for a jury trial are not always who you think they are. If this sounds overwhelming and scary, it should. Only an experienced attorney can navigate someone in the criminal justice system and hope for a favorable outcome. A seasoned criminal defense lawyer knows when to work with the system, not against it. For starters, you may need answers to one or more of the following questions:

  • Can a no-contact order be lifted?
  • Can a domestic violence/assault case be dismissed without trial?
  • What happens if the victim in a domestic violence/assault case wants it dismissed?
  • What happens if the victim in a domestic violence/assault case fails to appear for trial?
  • Can I argue that I acted in self-defense in a domestic violence/assault trial?
  • Why am I charged with domestic violence/assault if I was only trying to avoid a fight?
  • Will the victim be charged with a crime if he or she changes the story?
  • *Will the victim be charged with contempt of court if he or she fails to obey a court notice or subpoena?
  • Can the victim file a supplemental report with the police or prosecutor?
  • What does it mean when a criminal case is dismissed without prejudice?
  • What does it mean when a criminal case is dismissed with prejudice?

*It is unethical for an attorney to advise anyone to ignore a court notice or subpoena.

We have written extensively about domestic violence cases and cannot go into detail answering all of the above questions without being repetitious with respect to other articles and blogs on the subject. Please browse through our blogs and articles which discuss various topics in relation to assault and domestic/violence assault crimes:

How Am I Being Charged With Domestic Violence / Assault When I Acted In Self-Defense?

Can I be charged with a crime if only one person says I did it and there are no other witnesses or evidence (commonly called “he said/she said” cases)?

Imposition of No Contact Orders for Persons Charged with Michigan Criminal Offenses; Assault, Stalking, Domestic Violence

When a Misdemeanor Assault or Domestic Violence Case Escalates to a Felony

Part 1: Domestic Violence Cases in Macomb and Oakland County, Michigan, Investigation, Arrest and Statements by the Accused

Part 2: Domestic Violence Cases in Macomb and Oakland County, No-Contact Orders, Dismissals for First Offenders

Part 3: Domestic Violence Cases in Macomb and Oakland County; Court Process, Victim Failing to Appear in Court, Victim Providing a Contrary Statement

IMAGE assault-with-a-deadly-weapon

ABC’s of Assault and Domestic Violence Cases

In Michigan, the crimes of “assault and battery” or “domestic violence/assault” are classified as misdemeanor offenses, or minor criminal offenses. The offense of “assault and battery” means that the defendant made intentional (non-accidental) physical contact with another person and without consent to do so. Any touching of the other party, however slight, is sufficient to constitute an assault and battery. Domestic violence/assault is charged when a close relationship exists between the parties. Some of the cases that we see involve minimal physical contact or physical contact for a specific purpose or intent other than to cause harm. For example:

-Taking the car keys or other property from another person.
-Jostling the other party to escape from a volatile environment -Making physical contact with the instigating party while trying to avoid confrontation.
-Trying to defend oneself from another person (self-defense).
-Restraining another person from causing physical harm to others or to himself/herself.
-Restraining another person from causing physical damage to property.

We have seen every single one of the above scenarios result in criminal charges.

Assault or Domestic Violence Case Don’t Go Away Once they are in the System

The class of assault crimes that involve close relationships, particularly domestic violence cases, rarely involve extreme circumstances or injuries. In a large percentage of these cases, the party who made the 911 call has regrets and may want to drop the charges. When this is the case, the alleged victim may claim that the incident was a misunderstanding or that the police did not report it accurately. However, once an arrest is made and a criminal file is officially in the “system”, it is not easily dismissed. The system consists of several governmental organizations (police, prosecutor, court, victim’s rights advocate, probation department) that are required to follow protocol in the handling of a criminal case. The police pass the case off to the prosecutor and prosecutor passes it off to the courts. In another blog, I explain why it is so hard to get domestic violence/assault cases dropped.

Most Domestic Violence/Assault Cases Begin with a 911 Call to the Police
It merely takes a 911 call to the police that can be the start of an agonizing legal process. After the 911 call, the police are summoned to go to the location of the alleged crime. The police are prepared to deal with parties that may be under the influence of alcohol/drugs and in a frantic emotional state of mind. Once present, they begin their investigation by separating the parties. The alleged victim will be examined for any possible injuries and the need for medical attention. Any injuries, however slight, such as red marks, bruises, cuts or the presence of blood, will be noted and photographed as possible future evidence. As I said, the police will separate the parties to gain order at the alleged crime scene, defuse the episode and to take statements from the parties. Keeping the parties at a distance makes it harder for them to fabricate statements. The police will attempt to get an admission/confession from the suspect confirming that physical contact was made upon the alleged victim. The victim is also given an opportunity to explain the incident. First the police like to obtain an oral statement. Then the police will ask the victim to provide a consistent written statement. An angry spouse or ex may introduce extraneous details in the statement which may not be completely honest or don’t tell the whole story. Any aspects of self-defense are often left out when a victim talks to the police. Unfortunately, missing details, embellishments or untruthful statements to the police may be enough to escalate a simple assault or domestic violence from a misdemeanor to a serious felony.

Felony Assault Crimes in Michigan

Let me start out by providing an example of recent felony related assault case which was handled by our firm in Macomb County:

Example: Our client said that his wife was blocking his attempt to leave the house after an argument ensued. She suffered a bloody nose in the process when he was trying to restrain and calm her down. She called 911 and told the police that it looked like a murder scene in her kitchen and that there was blood everywhere. The police photos showed blood on her face and on the floor which made the situation look more egregious. She said she was strangled by her spouse. She never obtained medical attention. The police arrested our client and the prosecutor charged our client with a felony that could carry up to ten (10) years in prison, assault with intent to strangle or suffocate.

The above example is one of many possible ways that actual or alleged assaultive conduct can result in a felony charge. The following is a list of assault related offenses in Michigan that may be charged in the context of a domestic altercation as a felony:

Assault with a deadly weapon (gun, knife, chair, bottle, phone)
Assault with intent to commit sexual contact
Domestic violence/assault 3rd offense
Assault with intent to maim
Assault with intent to commit sexual penetration
Assault with intent to do great bodily harm
Assault by strangulation or suffocation
Assault with intent to murder
Assault against a pregnant individual causing miscarriage

The maximum penalties for the above listed felony cases range from 4 years up to life in prison. The above offenses are linked to the appropriate Michigan statutes for further information about the offenses and related criminal penalties. Sentencing for felonies is governed by the Michigan Sentence Guidelines.

A Few Words about Felony Assault with a Dangerous Weapon

The offense of assault with a dangerous weapon is charged more often than any of the other felony assault related charges. The offense, assault with a dangerous weapon (ADW or felony assault), does not require any physical contact. In addition, the offense does not require the use of a conventional weapon such as a gun or knife. Michigan Criminal Jury Instruction, 17.10, defines how a jury is required to determine whether an instrument is a dangerous weapon:

A dangerous weapon is any object that is used in a way that is likely to cause serious physical injury or death. Some objects, such as guns or bombs, are dangerous because they are specifically designed to be dangerous. Other objects are designed for peaceful purposes but may be used as dangerous weapons. The way an object is used or intended to be used in an assault determines whether or not it is a dangerous weapon. If an object is used in a way that is likely to cause serious physical injury or death, it is a dangerous weapon. You must decide from all of the facts and circumstances whether the evidence shows that the instrumentality in question here was a dangerous weapon.

In recent months, we have seen several domestic violence/assault cases charged as felony assault with a dangerous weapon. I cannot attribute this to anything in particular but feel that prosecutors are becoming more aggressive to authorize a felony charge even when the facts are not compelling and the victim does not want to prosecute. Fortunately, there are legal means to get a case under control.

Please browse through our blogs and articles which discuss various topics in relation to assault and domestic/violence assault crimes:

Public Policy Reasons Make it Difficult to Get Domestic Violence Cases Dismissed

How Am I Being Charged With Domestic Violence / Assault When I Acted In Self-Defense?

Can I be charged with a crime if only one person says I did it and there are no other witnesses or evidence (commonly called “he said/she said” cases)?

Imposition of No Contact Orders for Persons Charged with Michigan Criminal Offenses; Assault, Stalking, Domestic Violence

Part 1: Domestic Violence Cases in Macomb and Oakland County, Michigan, Investigation, Arrest and Statements by the Accused

Part 2: Domestic Violence Cases in Macomb and Oakland County, No-Contact Orders, Dismissals for First Offenders

Part 3: Domestic Violence Cases in Macomb and Oakland County; Court Process, Victim Failing to Appear in Court, Victim Providing a Contrary Statement

fabian dismissal

Above image is an actual court disposition resulting in dismissal of multiple offenses.

This blog is based upon our experience representing clients that are charged with multiple criminal offenses. Multiple criminal offenses may be brought even when there is a single intent involved. When confronted with multiple criminal charges, our objective becomes one of untangling the mess, isolating what really occurred and attempting to get charges reduced or dropped.

In certain situations, a person may obtain multiple criminal charges arising out a single incident, single intent or criminal episode. An evening of alcohol consumption with friends, or the escalation of a domestic altercation, sometimes ends poorly. In other cases, multiple criminal charges may be the result of an over-zealous prosecutor or police agency seeking to hit an offender with every offense in the Michigan Penal Code. In our experience, multiple criminal charges arising out of a single incident is usually “over-kill” on the part of the prosecutor or cops and seldom results in multiple convictions when approached with a sound legal strategy.

Over Zealous Prosecution, Over-Charging

As I mentioned, multiple criminal charges may occur when a prosecutor is over zealous. Multiple charges give the prosecutor an unfair edge in the plea bargaining and jury process.

Plea bargaining: A prosecutor has leverage during the plea bargain stage of a criminal case when a defendant has multiple criminal charges arising out of the same conduct. In a multiple charge scenario, a defendant may not want to risk fighting multiple criminal charges at trial. The prosecutor may offer to dismiss some of the charges upon a defendant pleading guilty to 1 or 2 of the offenses in a multi-charged complaint.

Jury process: In addition, prosecutors have an advantage with juries in cases where multiple charges are pursued. The advantage is a psychological one where the jury feels that a defendant facing multiple criminal charges must have done something wrong to deserve it. Also, jurors may feel that they can satisfy both the prosecutor and defense by spitting the verdict and finding a defendant guilty of some of the charges while dismissing others.

Examples of Cases Involving Multiple Criminal Charges

Example #1: Our firm represented a spouse charged with domestic violence, preventing use of telecommunications equipment, disorderly conduct and resisting/obstructing the police. Our client tried to leave the residence because of a heated argument with his wife. His wife blocked the doorway and he pushed her aside to leave the residence. The police report said that our client attempted to grab the phone from his wife when she first tried to call the police during the argument. He then left the residence but returned shortly thereafter while the police were present. The report stated that our client was loud and uncooperative when he tried to give his side of the story to the police. Our client did not have any prior record and was hardly someone we would qualify as a trouble maker or violent person.

The above scenario (Example #1) is not uncommon. Improperly handled, the defendant may have wound up being convicted of several offenses (domestic violence, tampering with telecommunications equipment, disorderly conduct and resisting/obstructing police). That was not the case. Our job was to separate the wheat from the chaff. In other words, we were able to negotiate dismissal of several offenses (misdemeanors and felonies) which did not pertain to the underlying purpose of police intervention. The prosecutor and police both agreed that the person did not deserve multiple convictions. His wife was also helpful because she admitted that she was complicit and contributed to the physical contact when she obstructed her husband’s mobility as he attempted to vacate the residence. The final outcome was a plea to the offense of disorderly conduct which was taken under advisement pursuant to MCL 771.1 by the court and dismissed after one (1) year of good behavior.

Example #2: Our client was pulled over for suspicion of drunk driving. He failed the field sobriety tests and tested positive for alcohol on the preliminary breath test (PBT). He was arrested. The police did an inventory of the vehicle and found a small quantity of marijuana and a “one-hitter” pipe. He had a suspended license because of an unpaid traffic ticket and did not have proof of insurance although the vehicle was insured. His charges consisted of drunk driving (OWI, .08% or greater), possession of marijuana, possession of narcotics paraphernalia, driving while license suspended and no proof of insurance.

In this scenario (Example #2), we were able to have the no proof of insurance offense dropped because our client produced valid insurance at the pretrial conference. The driving while license suspended offense was also dropped because our client provided proof that he paid the ticket which resulted in his license suspension. Our client agreed to plea to a reduced charge of “impaired driving” and the offense of possession of marijuana was taken under advisement pursuant to MCL 333.7411 which was dismissed upon good conduct after 1 year. The offense of possession of narcotics paraphernalia was also dropped at the pretrial conference.

We hope that this blog is useful to anyone facing multiple criminal charges. As I stated, a sound legal strategy and the ability to negotiate effectively can often lead to favorable results with minimal consequences. Knowing how to deal with the prosecutorial arm of government can mean getting a huge break without serious criminal convictions.

Links to other popular blog pages:

Pretrial conference

Domestic violence, Part 1

Domestic violence, Part 2

Domestic violence, Part 3

Should you cooperate (snitch) with the police?

abdo law self defense.jpg
Oftentimes clients call confused as to why they are being charged with an assaultive crime (assault and battery, domestic violence, etc.) when they believed that they were acting in self-defense. The police have to respond to allegations of violence, and where somebody alleges that they were attacked that will generally be sufficient to get a case brought into court. Sometimes one party will be charged (often the case) and other times both will.

Self-defense is one of the most common defenses in criminal law, and where the defense is successfully put forth it negates a crime of violence. Where we can show that our client acted in self-defense, the prosecution then faces a greater burden at trial. The prosecution must then show beyond a reasonable doubt that the assaultive crime occurred and moreover show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant didn’t act in self-defense. The following elements must be shown in order to establish a valid self-defense claim.

1) The defendant must have truthfully believed that the aggressor was going to use physical force against him, her, or a third person. So long as non-lethal force was applied the defendant need not have believed the aggressor was using deadly force.
2) Objectively, the belief of an imminent attack on the defendant must be reasonable. This means that neutrally looking at the defendant’s actions his or her belief that force was going to be used was a rational belief.
3)
The defendant honestly thought the amount of force used was appropriate.
4) Objectively, somebody would find that the defendant used an appropriate amount of force.

This is a pretty classic objective/subjective test – meaning that it must be shown the defendant thought his or her actions were reasonable and further that they were objectively reasonable. If the above elements are shown, self-defense is established, and the defendant is not guilty of the assault crime. Nonetheless, if prosecution shows the following, a self-defense case will fail.

1) That the belief of force or force used by the defendant was unreasonable.
2) That the defendant was the initial aggressor.
3) There was an agreement by both parties to enter into a fight.
4) If more force than necessary was used by the defendant to subdue the initial aggressor.

The following are factors that our office will evaluate in building a self defense case;

1) The relative size of the aggressor to the victim;
2) If the aggressor has a history of violence;
3) Any military or martial arts training;
4) The presence/threat of a weapon;
5) Whether there were multiple aggressors;
6) Social media activity including taunts/threats;
7) And/or prior threats by the aggressor.

Practically speaking what does this mean? The defendant must not have started the fight, must have honestly thought he or she was about to be attacked, and used only enough force to protect him or herself. Oftentimes people being charged with assault DO have valid self-defense claims. If you are being charged with such a crime you would be wise to contact an attorney to discuss the circumstances of your case and evaluate the merits of a possible self-defense claim.

2012 005.JPG

Our experience tells us that the most prevalent misdemeanor crimes which are prosecuted in the Macomb County District Courts by crime type are as follows:

Possession of Marijuana
Domestic Violence
Retail Fraud
Driving While License Suspended
Operating While Intoxicated
Disorderly Conduct

View image
A recent docket of cases in a Macomb County District Court
Fortunately, these common misdemeanors are manageable from the point of view of our criminal defense lawyers. Again, our experience is based upon handling 1000’s of misdemeanor cases in all of the Macomb County District Courts.

When we refer to Macomb County District Courts, we are referring to:

37th District Court: Warren 38th District Court: Eastpointe 39th District Court: Roseville, Fraser 40th District Court: St. Clair Shores 41-A District Court: Sterling Heights
41-A District Court: Shelby Township, Macomb Township, City of Utica 42-1 District Court: Romeo 42-2 District Court: New Baltimore, Chesterfield Township
Specific Provisions of Michigan Laws to Obtain Dismissals of Domestic Violence and Possession of Marijuana and Non-Public Record

In Michigan, there are distinct provisions of law designated for the crimes of Possession of Marijuana and and Domestic Violence to obtain a dismissal and suppression of the public record without going to trial. Our blog pages and web site contain several references to these provisions of law which may be linked as follows:

Domestic Violence: Michigan Compiled Laws 769.4a
Possession of Marijuana: Michigan Compiled Laws 333.7411

Delayed Sentencing and Dismissal of Retail Fraud and Disorderly Conduct Cases (also can be used for other misdemeanors and felonies)

There is also a delayed sentence law which is found at MCL 771.1. This law is a general provision which can be used for any criminal offense. Basically, it allows the Judge to delay the sentence and fashion a result or disposition that the offender can earn after a period of probation. Our criminal defense lawyers have utilized this provision of law extensively for numerous misdemeanor offenses including the commonly charged offenses of Retail Fraud and Disorderly Conduct. There are certain formalities to gain the benefit of a dismissal pursuant to MCL 771.1. Our criminal defense attorneys negotiate a plea bargain for application of MCL 771.1 with the prosecutor for a delayed sentence at a pretrial conference with the component of a dismissal after a period of probation. The Judge has the final say regarding acceptance of the usage of MCL 771.1 and whether dismissal will be provided at a future delayed sentencing date. For information, click here for a link to the blog page which pertains to Retail Fraud charges.

Operating While Intoxicated and Driving While License Suspended

The use or operation of a motorized vehicle is an essential element of the misdemeanor crimes of Driving While License Suspended and Operating While Intoxicated. Possession of marijuana does not require the use of an automobile for the crime to occur. However, possession of marijuana cases often are the end result of a traffic stop after the police officer smells marijuana or obtains consent to search the vehicle or the occupant. We don’t always agree with the police methods utilized to obtain consent to search which may involve subtle threats to get a search warrant or to call in the drug sniffing dogs.

Driving While License Suspended and Operating While Intoxicated do not fit neatly into a special provision of law which allows for outright dismissals after a period of probation and compliance. In my opinion, you can thank the insurance industry for legislation that does not allow an offender to obtain expungement of a traffic offense or traffic related crime such as Driving While License Suspended or Operating While Intoxicated. Nonetheless, we are often able to obtain reductions of both Driving While License Suspended and Operating While Intoxicated to minimize points, fines, driver responsibility fees, license sanctions and other sentencing consequences.
Continue Reading

PT blog picture.jpg

This year, we have published several blogs dedicated to “frequently asked (criminal law) questions”. Whenever possible, we endeavor to avoid legalese by providing articles in layman’s terms. The focus of this blog is pretrial conferences in Macomb County District Courts.

What is a pretrial conference?

A pretrial conference is a meeting that is attended by the attorneys for the parties in a criminal or civil case. The major purposes of a pretrial conference are to facilitate resolution of a case, management of a case for trial or management of a case regarding pertinent issues (as listed below). A pretrial conference is scheduled after either a criminal or civil case is filed with the court, a case number and a Judge are assigned. In Macomb County, criminal pretrial conferences are held soon after the arraignment. For misdemeanors, which occur in Macomb County, the pretrial conference will always be held at the district court (click here for complete listing of links to Macomb County District Courts). Felony pretrial conferences can occur on the date scheduled for a preliminary examination and again after the case is bound over to the circuit court. A person charged with a crime (the defendant) is required to be present on the date scheduled for pretrial conference. However, he or she is usually not allowed in the conference room with the attorneys. On the other hand, police officers and victim’s rights advocates with court business are allowed in the conference room. Likewise, an alleged victim may be present at the pretrial conference as the prosecutor must obtain the victim’s consent for a plea bargain in most criminal cases.

The direction of a criminal case is often determined after a pretrial conference. Pretrial conferences are a vital tool, which a skilled criminal defense lawyer will utilize for several reasons:

  • Promote dismissal of the charge(s) under certain circumstances
  • Negotiate a favorable plea bargain
  • Address bond, bond conditions and/or release from jail
  • Adjourn the pretrial conference to seek a deviation when strict policy obstructs a plea bargain
  • Request modification of no-contact order (domestic violence cases)
  • Negotiate restitution when financial losses are claimed
  • Meet with the Judge when judicial support is needed to discuss various matters, such as sentence bargains, creative plea bargains or to simplify issues of the case when set for trial
  • Size up the prosecution’s case, witnesses and evidence
  • Request copies of discovery (police reports, videos, chemical test results)
  • Schedule one or more motion dates to attack the evidence, or to weaken the case
  • Set future pretrial conference date(s) when delay can tend to improve the defense position
  • Schedule the case for a bench or jury trial

Factoid: A person who is accused of a crime is not considered a “defendant” until that person is formally charged with a crime. Our criminal defense lawyers never refer to our clients as “defendants” when speaking to the court or prosecutor because of negative connotations. We prefer to refer to our clients by their given name or “the accused”.

What is the attorney’s role at a pretrial conference?

The best way for me to summarize an attorney’s role at a pretrial conference is by mentioning a few passages from the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct.

A lawyer is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.

As advocate, a lawyer zealously asserts the client’s position under the rules of the adversary system.

As negotiator, a lawyer seeks a result advantageous to the client but consistent with requirements of honest dealing with others.

What is the defendant’s role at a pretrial conference?

Macomb County (as well as Oakland, Wayne and St.Clair), require the attendance of the defendant at the pretrial conference. If the defendant “fails to appear”, an arrest warrant may be issued. Prior to the pretrial conference, our criminal defense attorneys discuss goals and/or strategies with our clients. Even though the defendant is not present in the conference room, he or she is well informed of our intentions. We advise our clients to be punctual, dress appropriately and to refrain from discussing their case with anyone at the courthouse. We assume that our client’s conduct is “being monitored”. Therefore, we discourage any interaction with the victim or any conduct which draws unfavorable attention. Any progress towards working out a deal can be blown if a client offends certain key decision makers at the pretrial conference or at any other time while a criminal case is pending!

Is there an appearance in the courtroom after the pretrial conference?

After the pretrial conference, the defendant and his or her attorney will appear in open court and inform the Judge of the results. The Judge has the final say regarding the outcome of a pretrial conference. For example, certain plea bargains may be against the Judge’s own policy and may require some persuasion and legal authority. In addition, the Judge may show frustration when the parties are attempting to adjourn (delay) cases. Since adjournments tend to clog court dockets, the Judge will require that “good cause” be shown.

Our experience is that a pretrial conference is an invaluable opportunity to advocate on behalf of our clients. Advocacy includes elements of assertiveness and diplomacy. We often can achieve a disposition after the pretrial conference. This may result in a plea bargain, which may have the effect of dismissing the criminal charges in exchange for completion of probation. It is our job to protect our client’s rights and seek the best possible outcome, which may mean saving a client from being exposed to egregious facts and the expenses of an unnecessary trial. The defendant remains the ultimate decision-maker when presented with options after the conclusion of a pretrial conference.

Some other important things to know about pretrial conferences:

-Denial of a pretrial conference may constitute a denial of “due process” rights. US vs. Ataya, 864 F2d 1324 (1988)
-No admissions made by the defendant’s lawyer in the setting of a pretrial conference are admissible against the defendant during trial.
-Pretrial Conferences for federal criminal cases are governed by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 17.1

The addresses and phone numbers for all Macomb County district courts can be found at the following links:


Warren 37th District Court

Eastpointe 38th District Court

Roseville and Fraser 39th District Court

St. Clair Shores 40th District Court

Sterling Heights 41-A District Court

Shelby, Utica and Macomb Township 41-A District Court

Clinton Township, Mt. Clemens, Harrison Township 41-B District Court

Romeo, Washington Township, Armada, Bruce Township, Ray Township, Richmond, Memphis 42-1 District Court

New Baltimore, Chesterfield Township, Lenox Township, New Haven 42-2 District Court

warning_psycho_womens_dark_t_shirt-p235606176389139682tr1k_400.jpg

Can I be charged with a crime if only one person says I did it and there are no other witnesses or evidence (commonly called “he said/she said” cases)?

Answer: YES.

This is a question that we are frequently asked in cases involving relationships such as spouses, lovers, family members etc… These cases usually involve domestic violence, assault crimes, stalking, sex crimes or other personal crimes. The prosecutor may opt to charge a person with the alleged crime even though the suspect denies the allegations, there are no other witnesses and there is a complete lack of any other evidence (no injuries, no video, no confession).

Evidence Traps in He Said/She Said cases

The police agency assigned to cases such as this are often aggressive and will attempt to try and gain a confession from the accused to strengthen the case for prosecution. Sometimes in “he said/she said” cases, the alleged victim will call the suspect on the telephone with a script of loaded questions. A recording of the conversation can be used as evidence unless it is obtained illegally (Michigan Law-recording conversations). The phone call may be initiated with police encouragement before the suspect has knowledge that a police report has been filed!

As an active criminal defense lawyer in Macomb County, our firm has represented 1000’s of clients charged with crimes. Sometimes, the only evidence is the statement by an angry party in a tumultuous relationship who is seeking attention, revenge or retaliation. Far too often, the police attempt to get the suspect to talk for the purpose of proving facts surrounding the alleged incident such as alcohol consumption or an argument. Remember, the police rarely call someone unless a police report alleging a crime is filed. For this reason, you should retain a lawyer if you are suspected or charged with a crime and refrain from talking to the police.

Links to some other frequently asked questions:

Can my case be dismissed if I wasn’t advised of my Miranda rights?

Am I entitled to make a phone call if I am arrested?

Can I be charged with a crime if only one person says I did it and there are no other witnesses or evidence?

Do court appointed lawyers work for the police and prosecutor?
Continue Reading

imagesCA2KPH2C.jpg

This is one of many blogs that our law firm has posted about the Courts where our criminal defense attorneys frequently practice in Macomb County. This is an informational public service blog about the 41-A District Court.

The 41-A District Court in Sterling Heights has jurisdiction from 14 Mile Road to M-59 and from Dequindre to Hayes. This geographical area of approximately 36 square miles contains several major Macomb County thoroughfares such as Hayes, Schoenherr, Van Dyke, Mound and Dequindre. Within Sterling Heights, you will find major shopping centers, the Lakeside Mall, major automotive factories and established residential areas. According to the 2010 US census, the city of Sterling Heights boasts a population of 129,699 and is the second largest suburb in the Metro Detroit area. For these reasons, there are three (3) judges that are needed to administer justice for the City of Sterling Heights. (GOOGLE MAP, CITY OF STERLING HEIGHTS)

The 41-A District Court has jurisdiction to handle non-criminal traffic tickets (civil infractions), criminal matters such as misdemeanors, drunk driving (OWI) and criminal traffic violations. Here is a partial list of offenses which fall under these offense classifications:

Civil Infractions: Speeding, Fail to Obey Traffic Device, Improper Turn, Careless Driving
Criminal Traffic: Drive While Suspended (DWLS), Reckless Driving, Leave Scene of Accident, Fail to Merge for Emergency Response Vehicle
Drunk Driving: Zero Tolerance, Operating While Intoxicated (DUI, OWI), Super Drunk (OWI With a High BAC over .17%)

Misdemeanors: Retail Fraud, Domestic Violence, Disorderly Conduct, MIP, Possession of Marijuana, Possession of Paraphernalia, Malicious Destruction of Property (MDOP), Larceny under $200.00
Criminal Felonies: The district court handles the initial stages of a felony which include issuance of the complaint and warrant, arraignment, bond hearings and preliminary examination. Some arraignments occur after the accused receives a letter and appears voluntarily. The court also utilizes video arraignments for persons that are in custody.

Criminal Warrant Letters: Do not panic if you receive a letter from the Sterling Heights Police directing you to surrender yourself because a criminal warrant has been issued. This would be the time to hire a lawyer if you have not already done so. Our firm has positive experience with scheduling these matters or getting the job done immediately or before a holiday weekend (we don’t like to have warrants hanging over our heads over a long weekend). Ordinarily, we can get the warrant, booking, arraignment and bond addressed without any entanglements.

Legal Objectives: Civil Infractions (Traffic Tickets)
As we have mentioned in our other blogs; if you are found guilty of a civil infraction, the offense will appear on your driving record and you will receive point. The Michigan point system is used to determine high risk drivers which can result in license suspension after a person accumulates 12 or more points. In addition, points are used by insurance companies to rate drivers and raise insurance premiums. Do you think insurance companies find it in their best interest to know when a customer has a new ticket? When handling civil infractions, we attempt to reduce or avoid both points and any offense appearing on a client’s record.

Legal Objectives: Criminal Cases (Misdemeanors)
If you are found guilty of a criminal offense, it will stay on your permanent criminal record. Our goal is to avoid convictions or to obtain dismissals under special provisions of Michigan laws. While nobody can insure or guarantee that a criminal record will completely disappear after the case is concluded, we will aggressively seek the best case scenario by employing delayed sentence dispositions which result in dismissals for offenses like retail fraud, HYTA for youthful offenders (age 17 but under age 21) and statutory first offender deals such as MCL 333.7411 for drug crimes and MCL 769.4a for domestic violence. Since our firm practices extensively in the 41-A District Court (Sterling Heights and the location in Shelby Township), I can say that the Judges are very receptive to outcomes which are consistent with our objectives based upon several years of experience in this jurisdiction.

The Court also has limited jurisdiction over the initial stages of felony cases which include: authorization of criminal charges, issuance of warrant, arraignment (bond) and preliminary examination. However, felony cases are ultimately resolved in the Circuit Court unless reduced to a misdemeanor in the District Court.

The 41-A District Court is located at 40111 Dodge Park, Sterling Heights, Michigan 48313, Phone: 586-446-2500. The Presiding Judges for the 41-A District Court are Judge Michael S. Maceroni, Judge Stephen S. Sierawski and Judge Kimberley A. Wiegand.
Continue Reading

Warren-Police-cars-full.jpg

Many of our blogs explore criminal and drunk driving issues within the realm of our law firm’s expertise. Others are about the Courts where we frequently practice law. This blog is about the 37th District Court where we regularly provide legal services to our clients who are charged with traffic offenses, criminal (felony or misdemeanor) and OWI cases arising out of Warren and Centerline.

The 37th District Court has two locations which are located in the cities of Centerline and Warren. (MAP OF WARREN) The jurisdictional boundaries of these Courts covers 36 square (from 8 Mile Road to 14 Mile Road and from Hayes to Dequindre). South of 8 Mile Road is the City of Detroit and West of Dequindre is the County of Oakland. Within the boundaries of the 37th District Court are major Macomb County roads, the I-696 expressway, industrial centers, General Motors Tech Center, Automobile Dealers, over 100 restaurants and retail establishments.

The Warren Police Department (WPD) is located directly behind the 37th District Court. The WPD is one of the most active law enforcement agencies in Macomb County with a major detective bureau, air force (helicopter) motorcycle and traffic patrol squad. The detective bureau has a drug enforcement team as well as other units which engage in various undercover operations including cracking down on prostitution. The Michigan State Police also have a presence in Warren as the law enforcement entity responsible for patrolling I-696 expressway.

Our firm has represented clients charged with just about every imaginable misdemeanor and/or felony crime in the 37th District Court including drunk driving (OWI), drug crimes, disorderly conduct, prostitution, offer to engage or solicit sex from another, domestic assault, assault crimes, retail fraud, larceny, fraud, breaking and entering, child abuse, criminal sexual conduct, indecent exposure, malicious destruction of property, traffic violations, DWLS and probation violations.

As experienced criminal defense attorneys in Macomb County, I can say that the 37th District Court is a just and fair place to practice law. What I mean is that Judges are willing to listen to arguments and fairly dispose of criminal, drunk driving and traffic cases. I have found that the Judges are willing to give a criminal defense attorney some leeway when a case goes to trial or preliminary examination. In addition, most criminal cases handled by our firm are resolved without trial (90% or more are resolved by aggressive plea negotiations).

Criminal Cases in the 37th District Court

We set various goals when a client is charged with a criminal or drunk driving offense. Avoidance of a criminal conviction and jail are on the top of our list of goals. Some of our success stories include reducing a felony to a misdemeanor or having a case taken under advisement with a dismissal after a period of probation and compliance with the Court’s conditions. We have utilized every special provision of law in the 37th District Court to obtain dismissals of retail fraud, domestic violence, possession of drugs/marijuana, MIP and many other criminal offenses. The Court will also consider petitions to have youthful offenders (age 17 but under age 21) placed on a special status where the public record will be sealed and the offense dismissed for eligible offenders.

Drunk Driving Cases in the 37th District Court

I have found the Judges in the 37th District Court to take some mercy on first offenders whether they are charged with a criminal offense or drunk driving (OWI). Drunk driving cases rarely get dismissed. However, by aggressively defending our clients, an OWI charge can often be reduced to a lesser offense which will save a client money, points and driver responsibility fees. I have represented two (2) clients in July 2012 who had BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) results of .17% or greater. In both cases, I was able to have the charges reduced to impaired driving. (A chemical test result of .17% or greater is known as a “Super Drunk” case and the policy is usually against any reduction in the charge).

Traffic Violations in the 37th District Court

When resolving a traffic matter in the 37th District Court, we are often able to have traffic tickets amended and avoid points. A traffic ticket can be reduced to a Michigan civil infraction known as “impeding traffic” which does not appear on a person’s driving record and does not carry any points.

We take every precaution to know the strengths and weaknesses of our cases, set realistic goals and formulate strategies to achieve favorable results. In doing so, we will obtain discovery (police reports, videos, test results), witness statements and make recommendations to our clients for counseling whenever this is an appropriate course of action.

37th District Court Locations:

Warren: 8300 Common Road, Warren, MI 48093 Phone: 586-574-4910
Centerline: 7070 East 10 Mile Road, Centerline, MI 48015, Phone: 586-757-8333
37th District Court Presiding Judges:

John Chmura, Matthew Sabaugh, Jennifer Faunce, Dawn Gruenburg
Soon, Judge Dawn Gruenburg will be leaving the 37th District Court for a Federal Judicial Appointment. She will be dearly missed. Her replacement will be appointed by Governor Rick Snyder. Our firm has sent letters to Governor Snyder in favor of qualified candidates.

FINES AND COSTS.jpg
Many of our blogs explore criminal and drunk driving issues within the realm of our law firm’s expertise. Others are about the Courts where we frequently practice law. This blog is about the 42-2 District Court in the City of New Baltimore where we regularly provide legal services to our clients who are charged with criminal and OWI cases arising out of New Baltimore, Chesterfield Township, New Haven and Lenox Township.

The 42-2 District Court, located in the City of New Baltimore, has posted a list of possible fines and costs for various crimes. The list also contains a warning as follows: ALL FINES AND COSTS ARE DUE AT THE TIME OF SENTENCING, WE DO NOT GIVE TIME TO PAY. This warning is followed by strong language that failure to pay fines and costs will result in jail time.

42-2 District Court Drunk Driving Range of Fines and Costs

The approximate range of fines and costs for a first offense Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) or Impaired Driving (OWVI) in the 42-2 District Court is from $500.00 to $1,000.00. For a second drinking and driving offense, the range jumps to $1,000.00 to $2,500.00. This does not include other costs such as probation oversight expenses, substance abuse screening, driver responsibility fees, police/municipal response costs, random testing and substance abuse counseling. The driver responsibility fee for OWI is $1,000.00 per year for 2 years and for $500.00 per year for 2 years upon conviction of Impaired Driving. Based upon my experience, Judge Hackel yields to the low side of the range for fines and costs with respect to drinking and driving cases compared to many other courts.

42-2 District Court Partial List of Fines and Costs for Misdemeanors and Drunk Driving

  • OWI, IMPAIRED First Offense $500.00 – $1,000.00
  • OWI, Impaired, Second Offense $1,000.00 – $2,500.00
  • Driving while License Suspended $300.00 – $500.00
  • Domestic Violence $300.00 – $800.00
  • MIP and Open Intoxicants $200.00 – $500.00
  • Disorderly Conduct $200.00 – $500.00
  • Possession of Marijuana $200.00 – $800.00
  • Retail Fraud $200.00 – $800.00

Again, the above range for fines and costs does not include probation oversight expenses, restitution to any victim, driver responsibility fees, evaluations, police/municipal response expenses and other possible costs.

I would also like to add that our firm can often have many of these listed crimes dismissed whenever a client is eligible for a delayed sentence or a first offender program. For example, our firm handled a retail fraud case for a client who did not have a prior record. The case was dismissed after a short period of non-reporting probation after the client paid only $300.00 fines and costs. We have had similar results in other cases involving domestic violence, disorderly conduct, possession of marijuana, youthful offenders (age17 to 20) and other criminal offenses.

An attorney cannot ethically guarantee a result in a criminal case. However, I have found that some Judges will consider a person’s financial circumstances when imposing fines and costs. In addition, our firm has been able to advocate that an impoverished person be allowed to provide community service to defray fines and costs in extreme cases.

Judge Hackel is a Judge that will listen to a lawyer’s arguments and be willing to give someone an opportunity to have a case dismissed upon compliance with terms of probation. He is a concerned and reasonable Judge that wants to see a person improve his or her life. However, like other Judges in most jurisdictions where we practice, he is not likely to be sympathetic if someone violates probation.

The 42-2 District Court has jurisdiction over the following municipalities: New Baltimore, Chesterfield Township, New Haven and Lenox Township. Judge William Hackel III is the presiding Judge for the Court which is located at 35071 23 Mile Rd New Baltimore, MI 48047, phone: 586-725-9500. Information about other district courts located in Macomb County can be found at the county’s website.

Other Court and Community Blogs:

ROMEO FINES AND COSTS

RETAIL FRAUD IN ROMEO OR WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP

ST CLAIR COUNTY

RETAIL FRAUD CASES AND THE 52-4 DISTRICT COURT TROY

RETAIL FRAUD CASES AND THE 32-A DISTRICT COURT HARPER WOODS

RETAIL FRAUD IN THE 41-B DISTRICT COURT CLINTON TOWNSHIP

CRIMINAL AND TRAFFIC JURISDICTION OF THE 42-2 DISTRICT COURT

41-A DISTRICT COURT, STERLING HEIGHTS
Continue Reading