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It is always best to have the assistance of an attorney to give you specific legal advice about your particular situation. The following provides general information about criminal cases in circuit court. Online help is available for self-represented persons at Michigan Legal Help where you can find Do-It-Yourself tools, articles, checklists, FAQs, & other resources.

Circuit Court handles felonies and some “high court” misdemeanors (misdemeanors punishable by up to two years in prison).

Felony and misdemeanor cases begin when someone is accused of committing one or more crimes. The government, represented by the prosecuting attorney, begins a criminal case by filing a complaint against the individual (called the defendant). If the defendant has not already been arrested, a warrant for arrest will be issued when the complaint is filed. A felony or “high court” misdemeanor case is filed with the district court but will be transferred to the circuit court for trial if the district court finds there is probable cause that the defendant committed the crime(s).

Once a defendant is arrested for a felony or “high court” misdemeanor, the defendant is taken to the district court for an arraignment. The defendant will be held by law enforcement until a bond is set and/or the arraignment takes place. The arraignment is held before a district court judge or magistrate. At the arraignment, the judge or magistrate explains the charges, the defendant’s constitutional rights, and the possible consequences if there is a conviction. The district court also determines whether a defendant will be released on bond and, if so, the bond amount.

The court may appoint an attorney in a criminal case if the defendant is unable to afford an attorney. In a criminal case, a defendant who is unable to afford an attorney has the right to court-appointed counsel if jail is a possibility.

A preliminary examination must be conducted by the district court in felony and “high court” misdemeanor cases in the county where the crime took place within 14 days of the arraignment. If the district judge determines there is enough evidence, the case will be transferred to circuit court for trial.

At the circuit court level, another arraignment is held, unless it is waived. After the arraignment, a trial date will be set. Criminal cases are resolved by a bench trial in front of a judge, a jury trial, a plea agreement or dismissal. After conviction at the trial or as the result of a plea agreement, the court will schedule a date for sentencing unless a defendant is found not guilty or the case is otherwise dismissed. At the sentencing, the judge will decide what penalty will be imposed. Possible penalties include incarceration, fines, other money assessments, and/or probation.

Model Criminal Jury instructions can be found at Michigan Courts One Court of Justice website.