• Background

Monroe County Indigent Defense

Monroe County Indigent Defense

            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. 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 are my rights in a criminal case?

         The Constitution of the United States guarantees rights to those accused of a crime.  Criminal rights include:  to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, right to an attorney, the right to a speedy trial by jury, the right to call witnesses, present evidence in court and the right to testify, the right to equal protection under the law, the right to confront your accuser, the right to freedom from double jeopardy, and the right to be free from excessive bail. 

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

            There are three types of offenses that bring people to court in Michigan. A civil infraction is the least severe, and is usually something like a speeding ticket or traffic ticket. Civil infractions are civil matters, and admitting responsibility to one does not result in a criminal record or conviction. It may, however, result in an increase in insurance premiums.

            Misdemeanors are crimes that are punishable by up to one year in jail and/or 2 years of probation.

            Felonies are punishable by more than one year of incarceration and/ or up to 5 years of probation. Felonies are the only crimes where a person could be sent to prison.

            A sub category of felonies is a high court misdemeanor. This crime is punishable by up to 2 years in prison and/or 5 years of probation. A high court misdemeanor is considered a felony for criminal justice purposes but a misdemeanor for civil purposes. If convicted of a high-court misdemeanor, a person does not have to state they have 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?

            In Michigan, all criminal cases start in the District Court. The first step is the arraignment. At the arraignment, the defendant hears the specific charges against him or her, has the opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty, have a bond set, and have the next hearing scheduled. If the crime you are charged with is a misdemeanor, the next hearing will be a pretrial, followed by a trial if you do not enter a plea.

            If you have been charged with a felony, the hearing after the arraignment is called a probable cause conference. That is followed by a preliminary exam. This is where the prosecution must prove that there is probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and that you committed the crime. If the prosecution can meet that burden, the case is bound over to the Circuit Court.

            The first hearing at the Circuit Court is another arraignment. The vast majority of Circuit Court arraignments are either waived or help without the defendant being present. After the arraignment, the case is set for a pretrial, and if it cannot be resolved, it will be set for a second pre-trial, then a trial.

 How do I request an attorney?

            If you are charged with a crime, and faced with the possibility of jail time or prison, you are entitled to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you after a judge rules that you qualify. In Monroe County, anyone who desires an attorney present at arraignment is given one. That attorney is known as the CAFA, or Counsel at First Appearance. That attorney will be with you for your arraignment, but may not be your attorney for the length of the case. At your arraignment, you will be asked to fill out a form that details your financial situation. You must answer these questions truthfully. If you are deemed indigent or unable to afford an attorney, the judge will approve your request and an attorney will be appointed for you.

 When will my appointed attorney meet with me?

             If you are in jail, your appointed attorneys must meet with you within 3 business days of appointment. If you are not in jail, your attorney should make a first contact with you within the first 3 business days of appointment.

 Can I pay my Court Appointed Attorney to get them to work harder for me?

            No. Court appointed attorneys cannot accept payment from indigent clients.  The attorney appointed to your case is prohibited from taking any form of compensation from you in exchange for handling your case. The court appointed attorneys will always work hard on your case. Offering to pay your attorney will not in any way impact how your case is handled.    

 My attorney won’t give me my Discovery Packet or file. Aren’t they required to do so?

            Your attorney should review and discuss any relevant information, including evidence and reports form your case. The prosecutors will likely only provide one set of reports to your attorney and some of those cannot be kept in jail. Some copies of reports may be given to you. Your attorney will educate you on which documents are important to your case.

 My attorney asked if my family could pay for an expert or investigator. What if I can’t afford it?

            If an attorney wants to do some investigation or use an expert, they will typically have to file a motion and ask for money for that purpose. If an attorney has no other option, they might ask your family to pay. If your family can’t pay, your attorney is required to take steps to ask the court for more court funding to prepare your defense.

 I don’t like my attorney. Can I have a new one appointed?

            You would have to ask the trial court for substitute counsel to be appointed for your case. The court will have to find that there is appropriate basis for granting your request. Not liking your attorney is not considered adequate grounds for new counsel. If you can’t work with your attorney and have a breakdown of the attorney-client relationship, you can ask the court to assign another attorney.  

 Is my court appointed attorney a "real" attorney?

           Yes, the attorney assigned to your case is a real, licensed attorney.  All of the attorneys working as Court Appointed Attorneys in Monroe County are competent and dedicated trial lawyers that have the experience, skills, and passion for indigent defense.

 How should I dress when I have a hearing?

            It is important to dress appropriately when appearing before a judge. If you are able, business attire is preferred. The clothing you wear should be clean and without rips or stains and in a conservative style. It is not advisable to wear clothing with foul language, rude slogans, or inappropriate images