Articles Posted in Arrest, Warrants, Arraignment

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Arraignment: Facing criminal charges in open court

The Sixth Amendment to U.S. Constitution guarantees that defendants shall “be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against them.” The criminal arraignment is where the Sixth Amendment is enforced. The arraignment is the first stage of a criminal case where the person accused of a crime, the defendant, is formally brought before a judge in an open courtroom to face criminal charges. Here are a few ways an arraignment can occur or be waived:

  • Arrest: After a criminal investigation, a person may be arrested and brought before the court for arraignment on a felony.
  • Notice to appear: A person may be notified by mail or other means to personally appear for an arraignment.
  • Ticket or citation: A ticket or citation issued by a police officer will contain instructions to contact the court, usually within 10 days.
  • Misdemeanor offense: The court may allow a defendant to waive formal arraignment for a misdemeanor charge.
  • Felony offense: Formal arraignment is mandatory and cannot be waived.

In Michigan, arraignments must take place without unnecessary delay. If a person is not arraigned within a reasonable time, the case will be dismissed but it is subject to being reinstated at a later date.

Arraignments are only provided for criminal cases, not traffic tickets that are “civil infractions” and non-criminal. 

More and more courts are not allowing arraignments to be waived for crimes such as domestic violence, drunk driving and drug crimes.  A no-contact order is typically ordered assault and domestic violence crimes. For many alcohol and drug crimes (OWI with a high BAC, OWI 2nd or 3rd, possession of analogues), the court will impose alcohol/drug testing during the pendency of the case and may continue testing after sentencing as a condition of probation.

Purpose of arraignment

The arraignment is not a confrontational phase of a criminal case. However, it is an important first phase of a criminal case and that is protected by the Bill of Rights. The following legal matters are covered at a formal arraignment:

  • Charges are read in open court: The criminal charges and maximum penalties are read to the defendant.
  • Entry of plea: The court will consider accepting a plea at this time (see below for more about “plea” proceedings).
  • Cash or personal bond: The court will impose a personal bond (no money is required) or bond with a cash component.
  • Right to an attorney: The defendant is advised of his right to a court appointed attorney base upon financial circumstances.
  • Bond conditions: The court can impose bond conditions upon release which may include: alcohol/drug testing, no-contact order, house arrest and GPS monitoring.
  • Probable cause conference: A probable cause conference and preliminary examination are scheduled for felony cases.
  • Pretrial conference: A pretrial conference is scheduled for misdemeanor cases which serves a similar purpose as a probable cause conference.

You should always consider hiring your own lawyer for purpose of arraignment if you have the convenience to do so and have not been arrested. 

Entering a plea at the arraignment: Guilty or Not Guilty?

The arraignment, being the initial phase of a criminal case, is considered a critical stage of criminal proceedings where the accused party (the defendant) is entitled to have the presence of an attorney. The court will provide a court appointed attorney for the limited purpose of arraignment if the accused party is without his or her own attorney. Without exception, an experienced criminal defense lawyer will always enter a plea of “NOT GUILTY” or “STAND MUTE” at the arraignment on behalf of the accused party. A not guilty plea is entered by standing mute. By standing mute, the defendant is representing to court that he or she is refusing to speak or exercising his or her right to remain silent.

Entering a plea upon receipt of an appearance ticket/citation

A ticket or citation may be issued by a police officer for misdemeanors charged under state law or local ordinance. A felony cannot be charged on a ticket or citation. The ticket will contain the court address and plea instructions. If you receive a ticket, you should consider contacting a lawyer to enter a plea with the court on your behalf. As I mentioned, an attorney will invariably enter a plea of NOT GUILTY to preserve future rights to fight the charge(s). If you plead guilty without a lawyer, it may be difficult to later set the plea aside.

MCL 257.728 governs the process for handling an appearance pursuant to a ticket or citation: Appearance may be made in person, by representation (of an attorney), or by mail. If appearance is made by representation or mail, the magistrate may accept the plea of guilty or not guilty for purposes of arraignment, with the same effect as though the person personally appeared before him or her. The magistrate, by giving 5 days’ notice of the date of appearance, may require appearance in person at the time and place designated in the citation.

Attorney’s role at the arraignment

You are at an automatic disadvantage when you appear before a judge for a criminal matter without the benefit of your own local attorney. Court personnel are forbidden from giving you legal advice. Although a court appointed attorney is furnished at an arraignment to make you feel like you are protected, the court process remains heavily weighted in favor of the police and the victim at this stage of the case.  First, there is the police report that may contain an unfair depiction of the incident and make a bad impression on the judge. In addition, the officer in charge and the alleged victim may be present during the arraignment. The victim may have an agenda and ask the judge to impose GPS monitoring or other unfair restrictions on the defendant’s freedom. It is far easier for the arraigning judge or magistrate to impose a high bond along with harsh bond conditions in the interest of protecting the public and the victim.

The media in the courtroom: The rate of media coverage in the courtroom continues to  increase and become a source of news as well as entertainment. Unfortunately, the presence of the media in the courtroom can have an influence on how everyone, including the judge and prosecutor, conduct themselves. The impartiality of the court and presumption of innocence can take a backseat in cases when the public is looking to lynch the defendant in a highly publicized case.

How can a local defense attorney make a difference? It is a fact that judges get to know the attorneys that appear before them over many cases and many years. They establish relationships and a mutual respect that can be relied upon in and out of the courtroom. A local attorney can be a vital asset to someone charged with a crime at the time of arraignment. Assuring the court that the defendant will be cooperative at all times (not use alcohol, avoid contact with the alleged victim) can make a difference in getting the judge to set a low or personal bond and limiting bond conditions that are a restriction on freedom.

What are the next phases of a criminal case after the arraignment?

A criminal case will be scheduled for pretrial proceedings following the arraignment. The first proceeding that is set will depend on whether the case is a misdemeanor or a felony.

Pretrial conference: Misdemeanors are scheduled for a pretrial conference after the arraignment. A pretrial conference is conducted between the prosecutor and defense attorney. There are no restrictions on what may be covered at a pretrial conference. However, the vast majority of criminal cases are resolved at the first or subsequent pretrial conference(s) when a plea bargain can be negotiated.

Probable cause conference: Felonies are scheduled for a probable cause conference (PCC) after the arraignment. A PCC is like a pretrial conference and may result in an ultimate resolution of a felony when a plea bargain can be achieved. Many felonies are amended to misdemeanors at a PCC. A felony that is not resolved at the PCC may be waived to the circuit court for further proceedings or scheduled for a preliminary examination.

Modification of bond conditions after the arraignment

The amount of  bond (cash component) and bond conditions ordered by the court at the time of arraignment are not etched in stone. A request can be made at any time after the arraignment for termination, modification or adjustment of the bond and any of the bond conditions. A request to modify bond is made by the attorney for the defendant by filing a motion for one or more of the following:

  • Reduction in the amount of bond (cash) required to get out jail. A request for a person bond, whereby no money is required, may be made in a bond reduction motion.
  • Reduction or termination of alcohol/drug testing.
  • Removal of no-contact order.
  • Permission to allow travel out of state.
  • Termination of GPS monitoring/tracking or house arrest.

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George-Floyd
Imaginary lines in space decide many of the rights and obligations of American life. These boundary lines have tremendous effects on our sense of self and to whom we feel connected. Far more than just emotional and psychological consequences flow from where we live and how we identify. (Read Democratic Education and Local School Governance.) In America, geography and identity determine one’s legal power and opportunity.

3 recently recorded incidents of unarmed black men being ridiculed or killed in America have surfaced online and sent communities across both coasts pleading for justice.  The unfortunate stories of Ahmaud Arbery, Christian Cooper, and George Floyd during COVID provides powerful tools for Americans to reflect on our interconnectedness with fellow Americans from different backgrounds and geography.

The United States of America, a democracy founded on the equal dignity of every citizen[1]  rejects an ancient view that legal power and opportunity hinges upon accidents like parentage or geography. This is due to the fact that deeply rooted in American heritage and values is our core belief in the American Dream, a happy way of living that can be achieved by anyone in the U.S. by working hard.[2]

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Far too often when we are retained for a criminal case, domestic violence, assault crime or drunk driving, a client is also charged with one of the following Michigan felony cases:

PT blog picture.jpgThis 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.

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This is another segment in a series of blogs which is dedicated to provide answers to frequently asked legal questions related to criminal law. If you are charged with a crime (felony or misdemeanor) you may be arrested on an outstanding warrant or receive a notice from the court or police directing you to personally surrender yourself to the police or to appear at court.

Our Macomb County criminal defense lawyers get asked this question all the time: What should I do if there is a warrant for my arrest?

A criminal arrest warrant is a written court order directing for the arrest and detention of a person. If you have received notice or have knowledge that there is a warrant for your arrest, it is just a matter of time before you will be arrested. When a warrant is issued (signed by the judge), the court may send a notice to the party (criminal defendant) for a hearing (arraignment) to address the issue of bond or detention of the defendant while a criminal case is pending. If someone receives a notice (from the court or police) regarding the existence of a warrant or has other knowledge of an active warrant, an attorney should be retained immediately to arrange a court date and have the warrant cancelled and bond determined. This is the best case scenario to resolve a warrant.

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