When you are arrested for OWI in Michigan, you not only have to deal with your driving privileges being suspended, but you also have to go through the criminal justice process. Here’s more on how the typical criminal case works.
This is typically the first step in the criminal justice process. Here, you will be taken to the police station to be processed. What this means is that your personal information will be recorded by the police. This typically includes fingerprinting and your mugshot picture being taken. Once processing is completed, you may be released with a subpoena to attend your first court hearing. If you are not immediately released, this is likely because you will first need to see a judge so bail can be set. In the interim, you will be held in a jail cell.
The Prosecutor Brings Criminal Charges
It is the job of the police to gather all of the facts and evidence concerning your OWI. This evidence is then turned over to the prosecutor, who reviews the evidence against you and makes a decision on whether you should be charged with a crime. If the prosecutor believes that the evidence is solid enough to convict you, they will then charge you with OWI. You should know that simply because you are arrested on suspicion of OWI does not mean that you will be charged with that crime. After reviewing the evidence against you, the prosecutor may charge you with a less severe crime or add additional charges.
In the event that you are held at the jail, the next step in the process is a hearing in front of a judge where bail will be set. You will also be informed of one or more charges that the state brings against you. In the vast majority of OWI cases, bail will not be required. You will simply be released and given a court order to return to court for a hearing. If you have other active criminal matters, or outstanding warrants, then bail may be set in order for you to be released. The purpose of bail is to ensure that you will return for your next court date. As a result, you can be denied bail if the judge believes that you will not show up for trial or believes that you are a danger to the community. The judge will base their decision on your criminal record and the facts surrounding your arrest.
If bail is set, then you can either pay it on your own or hire what is known as a bail bondsman. A bondsman generally will require that you pay them a percentage of the total bail amount. Once you do that, they will then put up the remaining balance for you. The amount you pay to the bondsman will not be returned to you – it is their fee. If you put up your own money, then the entire amount that you paid to the court will be returned to you once your criminal matter is over.
At your arraignment, the judge will also inform you of the conditions of your release. What this means is that you will likely be prohibited from doing certain things until your case is completed. In an OWI case, it is common for the judge to require that you avoid consuming alcohol or drugs while your case is ongoing. You may also be prohibited from leaving the state unless you get special permission from the judge.
During this step, you will also have the opportunity to enter your plea. A plea is your response to the charge(s) brought against you. You can either plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest. It is recommended at this stage to plead not guilty unless you and your lawyer have already worked out an agreement with the prosecutor.
This is the stage where you and your lawyer will have the chance to resolve your case without going to trial. Typically, your lawyer will be provided all of the evidence against you at your arraignment. Once your lawyer goes over the evidence, they will then be in a position to assess the likelihood of you being found guilty. They will also have the opportunity to poke holes in the prosecutor’s case against you. Armed with this information, your lawyer can meet with the prosecutor and potentially come to an agreement on how to resolve the charge(s) against you.
If your lawyer believes that the case against you is weak, then they may decide to file a motion to have certain evidence thrown out or have the charge(s) dismissed altogether. If there is a strong likelihood that you will be convicted, then this is the stage where the lawyer may begin to listen to the prosecutor’s offer to resolve your matter through a plea agreement.
Plea Bargain Offers
A plea bargain (plea agreement) is an arrangement where you agree to plead guilty or no contest to the charge(s) in exchange for receiving a less severe punishment than had you taken your case to trial and lost. Because trials can be unpredictable and time-consuming, most criminal cases involve plea agreements. Only a small fraction of criminal cases usually goes to trial.
It is important to understand that even if you and the prosecutor agree on a plea bargain, that does not mean that the judge will accept it. All plea bargains must be approved by the judge handling your case in order for them to be finalized. If the judge believes that the plea agreement is too lenient or too severe, then they may reject it and order that your case proceed to trial. In the event that the judge agrees with the plea agreement, they will also ensure that it was entered into willingly. What this means is that the judge will ask you questions to confirm that the prosecutor did not mislead you or force you into the plea agreement.
Instead of negotiating with the prosecutor on a recommended sentence, you could opt for what is known as an open plea. This works by you first agreeing to plead guilty or no contest to the charge(s) against you. Your sentence will then be decided by the judge. An open plea is typically done when you wish to resolve your case, but you and the prosecutor cannot agree on a recommended sentence. This can be a risky option as you will not be able to predict with certainty what sentence the judge will give you. Still, the judge might look at your case more favorably than the prosecutor, and just might give you a less severe sentence.
Advantages And Disadvantages Of Taking A Plea Agreement
As mentioned earlier, going to trial can be risky and time consuming. No one is going to be able to guarantee a particular outcome. Cases that involve juries (usually a felony OWI) are notoriously unpredictable. Additionally, it may take months or even a full year before your case goes to trial. Witnesses may not be available, or your attorney may have a scheduling conflict. All of these factors can make going to trial seem like a nightmare. As a result, accepting a plea that entails avoiding jail time or other severe penalties may be preferred over taking a gamble at trial. Moreover, a plea bargain that is accepted by the judge will put an end to the uncertainty that you are facing. It can allow you to move on with your life.
Still, whether you accept a plea agreement will depend on what is being offered. If the prosecutor is offering a sentence that is at or near the maximum possible penalties, then it makes little sense to accept that kind of offer. Also, if you genuinely believe that you are innocent of the charges, accepting a plea agreement can be a humiliating and degrading experience. Openly admitting in court that you committed a crime that you know you did not commit may be too much for you to swallow. The stigma surrounding a criminal record and the possible effects on your job or social standing are also things that you should consider before taking a plea agreement.
If you decide to reject the prosecutor’s offer, then your case will proceed to trial. You should remember, however, that it may be possible to resume plea agreement negotiations at any point leading up to trial and even before the conclusion of your trial.
If you have a history of substance abuse or have been charged with one of the more serious OWI offenses in Oakland County, then you may be eligible for a special program known as sobriety court. The purpose of this program is to provide high risk drinking and driving offenders with therapeutic services to treat the underlying substance abuse problems that led to the OWI charge. This program functions differently from the tradition criminal justice process in that the focus is more on a collaboration between the judge, probation officer, treatment provider, and your lawyer.
In order to be accepted into this program, you must apply to have your case transferred from the original court where your charges were filed. One of the benefits of sobriety court is that it may allow you to receive a restricted driver’s license. This license allows for you to drive under certain conditions. Notably, you must reside within the jurisdiction of the Court and have no history of serious offenses of violence
Taking Your Case To Trial
If you enter a not guilty plea, and do not accept a plea agreement, then your case will go to trial. But before the trial begins, there are some preliminary court appearances where your attorney will have the opportunity to challenge the evidence that the prosecutor intends to present at trial. These hearings usually involve motions, which are requests to the court for it to take specific actions. In most criminal cases, motion to suppress hearings are held so your attorney can try to get the judge to throw out certain evidence that may be damaging to you at trial if admitted.
Another preliminary matter that will need to be decided is scheduling. Because trials involve your attorney, the prosecutor, the judge, and witnesses, everyone will need to agree on a trial date. Sometimes the original trial date is rescheduled due to the prosecutor not being ready. Your lawyer may also ask to reschedule to conduct further investigation. It is not uncommon for trial dates to be rescheduled more than once.
Beginning The Trial
The purpose of a trial is for the judge or jury to make a decision as to whether you committed the crime(s) that you have been charged with. It is important to understand that the prosecutor must prove to the judge or jury that you are guilty of what you have been charged with. You are not required to present a defense or testify at your own trial. If you opt to have a jury hear your case (typically only available in a felony OWI), then before your trial can begin, your lawyer and the prosecutor must go through the process of jury selection.
A jury is a group of regular people from the community who will decide whether you are guilty of the charge(s) brought against you. The jury selection process will involve your lawyer, the judge, and the prosecutor all asking potential jurors questions to determine if they can be fair in deciding your case. Once a jury has been selected, the prosecutor will begin to present evidence to the court in an attempt to prove their case against you.
The Prosecutor’s Case Against You
In order to prove that you are guilty of the crime(s) that you have been charged with, the prosecutor must present evidence in court (e.g. witness testimony, physical evidence). In most OWI cases, the evidence against you will include the testimony of the arresting officer, any observations from witnesses, and the results of the chemical test. The prosecutor may also need to present evidence concerning the science behind the chemical test and the significance of your test results. You lawyer will be able to challenge any evidence presented by asking the witnesses questions, also known as cross examination.
After the prosecutor presents all of the evidence against you, your lawyer will then have an opportunity to present any evidence that may cast doubt on the prosecutor’s theory of the case. While you are not required to put on a defense, your lawyer will likely present evidence to poke holes in the prosecutor’s case against you. This could include having witnesses testify about the interaction you had with the police, or having experts who disagree with the findings of the chemical test. Just as your lawyer gets the opportunity to question the prosecutor’s witnesses, the prosecutor will have the chance to question the witnesses who your lawyer presents.
While you have the right to testify in your own defense, you are not required to do so. In fact, it is generally not recommended that you testify at your own trial for a number of reasons. For starters, if you choose to testify, once your lawyer is done questioning you, the prosecutor will then have the chance to ask you questions. During questioning by the prosecutor, you might inadvertently say something that hurts your case. You might admit to a key fact that helps the prosecutor prove the charge(s) against you. Additionally, if your case is in front of a jury, they simply may not believe you.
After both the prosecutor and your attorney have presented their cases, they will both make closing arguments to the judge or jury. At these closing arguments, the lawyers tie together all of the evidence and state the reasons why the judge or jury should decide in their favor. Your lawyer will likely use this time to tell the judge or jury why the prosecutor has not proven their case.
If the case is being decided by a jury, then the judge will explain the relevant law and instruct them to come to a decision on whether you are guilty of the charge(s). Critically, the judge informs the jury that they are to base their verdict (decision) on the evidence and the law, not their emotions. In order for you to be found guilty, all jurors must agree that the prosecutor proved beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime(s) that you have been charged with. Beyond a reasonable doubt means that there is no other reasonable explanation that can come from the evidence presented at trial.
Being found not guilty means that all jurors agreed that you did not commit the crime(s) that you were charged with. This is also known as an acquittal. If you are acquitted, then your trial is over and you will be free to go.
If all jurors do not agree on a decision, then your case will result in what is known as a hung jury (also known as a mistrial). A hung jury does not mean that you were found not guilty or acquitted. As a result, if your case ends in a hung jury, then the prosecutor will have the option of re-filing those same charges and conducting a new trial in front of a different judge and jury.
Your Sentencing (Punishment)
If you are found guilty of OWI, the next step in the criminal process is known as sentencing. This is where your punishment will be decided.
Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI)
In Michigan, if you are found guilty of OWI, then you may be required to go through a pre-sentencing investigation. This is where you will be asked questions about your substance abuse history and other relevant factors to your sentence. Your pre-sentence investigation report will likely be drafted by a probation officer. The report will recommend a certain sentence based on the investigation. In most cases, the judge will follow what the probation officer recommends.
It is vital that you take steps to prepare for your PSI as it can be the difference between a harsh sentence or lenient sentence. An experienced Michigan OWI lawyer can provide you with the guidance that you need to make sure that you are prepared for your PSI. Rest assured that the PSI phase is one of the most important steps in your OWI case.
Once the PSI is completed and reviewed by the judge, a final decision will be made on your punishment. Judges in Michigan have a lot of latitude in determining your sentence. Still, because there are minimum sentencing requirements for various OWI offenses, their hands may be tied when it comes to some of the penalties you receive. Your lawyer will have a chance to argue on your behalf, but ultimately your sentence will be decided by the judge.
If you decide to go to trial and are found guilty by the judge or jury, then you may have the option of appealing the verdict and sentence. What this means is that you can ask another court to review your case to determine if any mistakes were made that did not allow you to receive a fair trial. Appeals are quite common in criminal matters, especially where the sentence involves jail time. Much like going to trial, an appeal can be costly and time-consuming. Still, your lawyer may be able to argue that your sentence should be placed on hold, pending the outcome of your appeal.
A successful appeal results in your verdict being thrown out. This could lead to a new trial. However, there are some errors that are so egregious that they compromise your entire case. When this happens, the verdict can be overturned and the charges permanently dismissed.