This is the most frequent question that lawyers receive from their clients, "Am I going to jail?"
Most people being charged with a crime for the first time are not familiar with the justice system and do not know what to expect from their case. For the most part, first time misdemeanor offenders who are compliant with their bond conditions are not looking at serving time in jail. The exaggerated fear of jail is often what causes defendant to avoid legal obligations, skip court dates, evade law enforcement, and ironically is what lands them in jail. If you're being charged with a misdemeanor and are scared and anxious, it is most likely more manageable than you think. This article gives an overview of whether or not a defendant should be anticipating jail time in their misdemeanor criminal case. Generalizations made here apply primarily to experience in Macomb County, though our office has found the following to be true throughout its practice in Metro Detroit.
An attorney cannot ethically guarantee a result in a criminal case. The bottom line is that nobody owns the judge. However, the reality, based upon our experience, is that jail is seldom imposed upon individuals convicted of misdemeanors in the District Courts.
There are numerous exceptions which will explained further below.
Unlike their Circuit Court counterparts, District Courts do not have sentencing guidelines. This gives District Court judges very broad discretion in fashioning sentences. This usually means that case strategy is best tailored to the individual policies of the specific judge that will be sentencing our office's defendant. First time offenders, in just about all cases, are probably NOT looking at jail for the following offenses.
- Drunk driving
- Operating under the influence of drugs
- Retrial fraud
- Misdemeanor assault crimes/domestic violence
- Driving while license suspended
- Possession of marijuana/paraphernalia/use of marijuana
- Disorderly conduct
- Minor in possession/ open intoxicants
- Malicious destruction of property
- Traffic misdemeanors
- Misdemeanor theft/ fraud crimes
In just about all of the above circumstances the offender will be looking at a probationary term. Broadly speaking one year of probation should be anticipated. Sometimes the court will depart from that for the better or worse. Most of the Districts in Macomb impose one year probation for first offense misdemeanors. Some of the courts in Oakland County impose longer probation terms. Moreover, most first time offenders (excluding DUIs and traffic offenses) are eligible for some type of diversionary program that will keep their records clean. While jail is not necessarily on the table in most misdemeanor cases, it is our function to minimize the terms and conditions of probation.