Information for Defendants

On this page you will find general answers to common questions asked by defendants in criminal cases.  Nothing contained on this page is intended as legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship between any person and this office.  The information contained on this page is for reference purposes only and may not apply to your specific case.  For specific answers to your questions you should contact an attorney.

What is a Public Defender and what does the office do?

The Office of the Public Defender represents criminal defendants who are indigent, meaning he or she cannot afford to hire an attorney, and need a court appointed attorney.  In Ingham County, the Office of the Public Defender was created to replace the Court Appointed Counsel system and improve the quality of indigent criminal defense in the county by  having a fully staffed, full-time office handling indigent criminal defense.  The attorneys in the Office of the Public Defender are employed by Ingham County but work exclusively for their clients benefit.

What are my rights in a criminal case?

Criminal defendants have the right to a trial by jury, to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, to have the prosecutor prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he or she is guilty, to have the witnesses against him or her appear at trial and to question those witnesses, to have the court order any witnesses the defense has to appear at trial, to remain silent during the trial and to not have that silence used against him or or her, and to testify if he or she wants to testify.

Should I talk to the police?

Every person who has watched a crime procedure show has heard the line "you have the right to remain silent.  Anything you say can and will be used against you."  The important thing to remember on this is that what you say will be used against you.  If you are interacting with the police it is extremely unlikely that you are going to be able to talk your way out of the situation.  The best thing you can do is clearly assert your right to silence, request an attorney, and politely refuse to answer any questions.

Is my public defender working with the prosecutor?

No, the assistant public defender assigned to your case is not working with the prosecutor.  The office of the public defender is an office created and funded by the county however it operates separately from the Courts and the Prosecutor's office.  The attorneys working in the office work as defense attorneys 100% of the time.

If I pay my public defender will he or she work harder on my case?

No.  In fact, the attorney appointed to your case is prohibited from taking any form of compensation from you in exchange for handling your case.  The purpose of the Public Defender's office is the provide zealous defense for individuals unable to afford to retain an attorney.  The attorneys hired by the office have a passion for representing the indigent and will always work hard on your case.  Offering to pay your public defender extra will not in any way impact how your case is handled.

The police didn't read me my rights, does that mean my case has to be dismissed?

If you've watched any police based television shows like Law and Order or CSI you've probably heard police reading people their rights whenever someone is arrested.  On TV, if the police forget to read the accused his or her rights then the defendant's case must be dismissed.  In real life the issue is much more complicated.  As a general rule, you should not expect your case to be dismissed because the police didn't read you your rights when you were being arrested. 

Is my public defender a "real" attorney?

Yes, the public defender assigned to your case is a real, licensed attorney.  You can check  here 
.  Most of the attorneys now working for the office of the public defender have significant experience working in private practice.  The attorneys working in the office were chosen for their proven experience, skills, and passion for indigent defense.

What is the difference between a civil infraction, misdemeanor, and felony?

In Michigan, offenses that bring a person into court come in 3 varieties.  The least severe are civil infractions, which are usually matters like a parking ticket or a speeding ticket.  Civil infractions are as the name suggests, civil matters.  Admitting responsibility to a civil infraction does not result in a criminal record or conviction and as a.  The next level are misdemeanors.  In Michigan, misdemeanors are crimes punishable by up to 1 year in jail and or 2 years of probation.  Felonies are the highest level of crime and a broadly defined as any crime punishable by more than 1 year of incarceration and or up to 5 years of probation.  Felonies are the only crimes for which an individual can be sent to prison.  Additionally, there is a sub-category of felony called a high-court misdemeanor.  A high-court misdemeanor are punishable by up to 2 years in prison and or 5 years of probation.  A high-court misdemeanor is a felony for criminal justice purposes but a misdemeanor for civil purposes.  After being convicted of a high-court misdemeanor a person does not have to state he or she has been convicted of a felony on job applications or other questionnaires but the conviction is otherwise treated as a felony.

I've been charged with a crime, what happens now?

All criminal cases in Michigan start in the District Court.  If you have been charged with a crime in Michigan the first step is the arraignment.  At the arraignment the defendant finds out the specific charges against him or her, has opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty, have a bond set, and have the next hearing scheduled.  If you have been charged with a misdemeanor the next hearing will be a pre-trial conference eventually followed by a trial. 

If you have been charged with a felony the first hearing after the arraignment is a pre-exam conference.  A pre-exam conference is a meeting between the attorneys to discuss scheduling, discovery issues, and potential resolutions in the case.  If the case continues past the pre-exam conference, the next hearing is a preliminary examination.  A preliminary examination is a hearing where the prosecution must prove that there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed and that the defendant committed that crime.  If the prosecution is able to meet this burden, then the case is bound over to the Circuit Court.

The first hearing at the circuit court is another arraignment.  The Circuit Court arraignment is very similar to a District Court arraignment.  In the vast majority of cases the Circuit Court arraignment is waived and the arraignment happens without the defendant present.  The case is set for a pre-trial conference.  If the case cannot be resolved at the first pre-trial conference it will normally be set for a second pre-trial conference and then scheduled for a trial.

The Judge ordered that I'm not supposed to have contact with someone in my case am I allowed to talk to them if they contact me?

If a judge enters a no-contact order in a defendant's case that means that the defendant is not allowed to have contact with the protected person.  No-contact orders do not prevent the protected person from reaching out to the defendant and trying to contact them.  The order only applies one way and the protected person does not face any potential consequences for contacting the defendant.  It is important to understand that no contact really means no contact.   Even if the protected person initiates the contact, the defendant is still ordered to not have contact with him or her and can face consequences for doing so.

How should I dress when I have a hearing?

When appearing before a judge it is important to dress appropriately.  When going to court a person should wear business attire if he or she is able.  The clothes you wear to court should be clean and in good repair without obvious rips or stains.  Additionally, it is inadvisable to wear clothes that have rude slogans, foul language, or inappropriate images.  It is best to dress in a conservative fashion that doesn't show unnecessary skin.

Can my family be with me when I meet my attorney?

Your family should not be with you when you meet with your attorney.  Anything you say to your attorney in private is protected by attorney-client privilege.  Your attorney cannot be forced to reveal these communications and is ethically prohibited from doing so.  This protection extends to the rest the attorney's office including any other attorneys and staff.  It does not extend to your family.  If you have family or any one else in the room when you are talking to your attorney the communication is no longer protected by that privilege.  This means that those people who are present could potentially be called to testify about what you told your attorney.  The best thing to do is to have meetings with only your attorney and members of the attorney's office.