Arraignment – Criminal Cases in Michigan

The first formal hearing following an arrest is the arraignment. An arraignment may take place at the courthouse or via teleconference while an accused defendant is at jail.

The process of Arraignment serves several purposes:

1)      a Defendant is formally told of the exact criminal charge that has been made against him/her

2)      the Defendant is likewise told the exact nature of the possible penalties that he/she faces

3)      the Defendant is either told, or reads and must sign to indicate he/she read and understood, his/her Constitutional Rights when charged with a crime (Advice of Rights)

4)      the Defendant may be asked how he/she pleads (Not Guilty, Stands Mute or Guilty)

5)      the setting of Bond and Bond Conditions

6)      finally, the Court informs the Defendant of the next court date, or at least advises the Defendant that notice regarding that next court date will be sent to him/her.

It is important to note that in most Michigan Courts, if a defendant is represented by a Lawyer in a Misdemeanor case, he/she can “waive” the arraignment by filing papers with the Court. This allows the defendant to skip the process described above. His/her next court appearance will be for a pre-trial hearing.

After advising a defendant of the charge or charges against him/ her, the maximum (and any necessary minimum) penalties that can be imposed, and after making sure he/she understand his/her Constitutional Rights, the Court may next enter a plea on behalf of the defendant. This is where things often become confusing.

 A person may enter a plea of “Guilty,” “Not Guilty” or “Stand Mute” (this means that they don’t say anything one way or the other about being guilty or not guilty, and the Court enters a plea of not guilty for them).

It is advisable that a person never pleads guilty at an Arraignment, no matter how guilty they actually are or may appear to be. Cases can be worked out, deals made, or things just plain happen that can dramatically affect the outcome of a case. The complainant (i.e. the Victim, or the Arresting Officer) may become unavailable and unable to pursue the charge against the Defendant. This is, of course, an extraordinary example, but various things may be done to make what at first might look like a desperate situation far better than ever thought. If a person pleads guilty right away, he/she may lose any opportunity to improve his/her situation.

In felony cases, some Judges or Magistrates may skip right over asking a person how they plead by just entering a “not guilty” plea for them. This happens because a distract court, where arraignments happen in felony and misdemeanor cases, cannot accept a guilty plea in a felony case. Under the law, only a county’s circuit court can dispose of felony cases. District courts do not have the jurisdiction, or power, to do anything more than handle felony arraignments and preliminary examinations. Thus, even if a defendant is dead-set on pleading guilty-as-charged in a felony case, the District Court can only enter a “not guilty” plea on their behalf.

If you would like to learn more about criminal procedures in Michigan, please contact attorney STEVEN G. STORRS at the Law Office of Steven G. Storrs, PLC at 269-945-2242 or via the online contact form to schedule a consultation.

*This blog is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult an attorney before making important decisions regarding your individual situation.