Under Michigan law a person charged with a felony is entitled to a preliminary examination or a probable cause hearing at the district court. The prosecutor must show probable cause that a felony was committed and probable cause that the defendant committed it in order to bind the case over to the circuit court for trial. New legislation went into effect in January, 2015 amending some of the procedural and time requirements for preliminary exams. This article discusses those changes and how it effects your rights as an accused.
Mandatory Probable Cause Conference
A probable cause or pre-exam conference is like a pretrial conference. It is a meeting between the defense attorney and prosecutor to discuss your case. This is where the parties will decide if they are going to have the preliminary exam, waive the preliminary exam (the case will automatically proceed to the circuit court), adjourn the prelim to another date, or settle the case at the district court with a misdemeanor plea. Although these conferences are now mandatory, nearly every court in the state had them prior to this amendment. The probable cause conference must occur within seven to 14 days after your arraignment. Although this probable cause conference is mandated by statute, it can be waived if all the parties agree.
Also known as the preliminary exam or simply the prelim. Under the old system, the preliminary exam had to be held within 14 days of being arraigned. Under the new system it must be held within five to seven days after the probable cause conference unless the parties agree to an earlier date. This new system does a couple of things: 1) it pushes the prelim out an extra week or so, and 2) it gives the defense attorney more time to prepare between the pre-exam conference and the prelim as most courts would hold the pre-exam conferences two to three days prior to the prelim and in some cases the day before.
Adjourning the Preliminary Exam
Under the old law the preliminary exam could only be adjourned or delayed for “good cause.” Now the prelim can be adjourned without a showing a good cause if the parties agree. The district court judge can adjourn the prelim without consent of the parties upon a showing of good cause.
Can a Witness Testify by Phone or Video at a Prelim?
The judge must now allow certain witnesses to testify either by telephone or video upon a motion of either party (under the old system the judge had discretion). However, some witnesses cannot testify by phone or video and must testify in person. The following witnesses must testify at the prelim in person:
- Complaining witness
- Alleged eye witness
- Law enforcement officer to whom the defendant made an incriminating statement.
Do the Rules of Evidence Apply at a Preliminary Exam?
Under the old system the standard rules of evidence did apply at a preliminary exam. There were some exceptions. For example, hearsay was allowed to show ownership of property, a notarized forensic report could be admitted in lieu of live testimony. That list has been expanded to include several types of medical and police reports that can be admitted without requiring the author of the report to testify in person, any foundation to be laid, or authentication proven. The following is a list of such documents:
- Results of a drug field test
- Certified copy of judgment, register of actions, governmental agency record
- Reports (other than law enforcement) kept in the ordinary course of business
- Forensic science reports
- Lab reports
- Medical reports
- Arson reports
- Autopsy reports
However, the judge must allow the prosecutor or defense counsel to subpoena and call witnesses from whom hearsay testimony was introduced on a satisfactory showing that live testimony will be relevant.
Lansing Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney
Criminal procedure is very complex and changes frequently. You need to be represented by an attorney that predominantly practices criminal defense to help prepare your case, decide whether to run or waive the prelim, and to help you navigate through the criminal justice system. If you have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony or have a preliminary exam scheduled, contact Austin Legal Services, PLC to speak to a Michigan criminal defense lawyer today at (517) 614-1983!
Defending adults and juveniles charged with misdemeanors and felonies throughout Michigan in the counties of Ingham, Eaton, Clinton, Gratiot, Livingston, Kent, Jackson, Shiawassee, Washtenaw in the cities of Lansing, East Lansing, Mason, Charlotte, St. Johns, Ithaca, Howell, Brighton, Grand Rapids, Jackson, Corunna, Ann Arbor.