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Grand Rapids Criminal Defense Attorneys

Put A Team With A Proven Track Record On Your Side

Being arrested or accused of committing a criminal offense can be a frightening, stressful and confusing experience. A conviction can result in severe penalties, including jail or prison time, costly fines and a criminal record that can negatively impact your personal life and professional reputation.

When facing a criminal charge, you need a strong advocate who knows the territory. James Scozzari combines his winning record as a defense attorney with a team-based approach to every case. When you retain us to defend you, you have the combined experience and expertise of all our attorneys at your disposal. Whether the charge is a misdemeanor or felony, whether in state court or federal court, our law firm can fight for you.

Call 616-828-0687 or contact Scozzari Law, PLLC, online to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your defense strategy.

Michigan Criminal Laws

If a person commits a crime in Michigan, most offenses are charged and prosecuted at the state level, rather than the federal court. There are two main types of state crimes: misdemeanors and felonies.

In general, a misdemeanor is less serious than a felony. However, getting convicted of a misdemeanor can still lead to harsh criminal penalties such as a jail sentence and fines.

There are misdemeanors punishable by a maximum jail term of 93 days and/or a fine of up to $500, misdemeanors punishable by a jail sentence of up to one year and/or a maximum fine of $1,000, and high court misdemeanors that carry a maximum jail sentence of two years and/or a fine of up to $2,000.

On the other hand, felonies are punishable by a prison sentence, instead of jail time. Additionally, being a convicted felon is associated with the loss of certain rights such as the right to possess a firearm, the right to serve on a jury, the right to join the military or the right to own a Michigan liquor license.

Here is a breakdown of the felony classes in Michigan:

  • Class A felonies – Punishable by life imprisonment or any number of years in prison
  • Class B felonies – Punishable by a maximum prison sentence of 20 years
  • Class C felonies – Punishable by imprisonment for up to 15 years
  • Class D felonies – Punishable by a maximum prison term of 10 years
  • Class E felonies – Punishable by imprisonment for up to five years
  • Class F felonies – Punishable by a maximum prison sentence of four years
  • Class G felonies – Punishable by imprisonment for up to two years
  • Class H felonies – A conviction can result in either jail time or other alternatives such as probation, electronic monitoring or treatment

The fines the courts can impose can be in an amount, depending on the specific offense.

What Happens After You Are Arrested In Michigan

Arraignment

One of the first steps of the criminal process is an arraignment, which is the first court hearing following arrest and booking. Furthermore, it is often combined with a bail hearing.

At an arraignment, a judge will formally state the charges you are facing. The judge will also read your rights, ask you to enter your plea and set a bail amount or release you. When it comes to entering your plea, there are three options: guilty, not guilty and no contest (e.g., not agree to committing the crime, but accept a conviction).

Keep in mind, if you plead guilty or no contest, the criminal trial process will end. Therefore, a “not guilty” plea gives you the opportunity to hire a lawyer (if you haven’t already done so), who can investigate your arrest, gather evidence, and help you either get your entire case dismissed or your charges/penalties reduced.

Investigation

After you (the defendant) are formally charged, the prosecution and the defense will each investigate the incident and prepare their case. The defense can examine all the prosecutor’s evidence and interview all witnesses prior to trial.

By law, the prosecution must disclose any information that may demonstrate that the defendant is not guilty. In turn, the defense must disclose all evidence and witnesses that will be presented at trial. Therefore, both sides must show what they have against one another.

Remember, to obtain a guilty verdict, the jury must prove your guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If a reasonable person has any doubt as to whether you are guilty after reviewing the evidence and witness testimony, then the jury must find you not guilty.

Plea Offer

The truth is that more than 90% of all criminal cases are resolved by plea bargains – and never go to trial. Also known as a plea agreement or plea deal, a plea bargain is an agreement between the defense and prosecution, in which the defendant pleads guilty or no contest in exchange for either reduced charges or reduced penalties.

If the evidence against you has some weaknesses and there is a risk of an acquittal or hung jury at trial, the prosecution may settle for a plea deal to offer lesser charges (i.e., from a felony to a misdemeanor) and/or a lighter sentence (i.e., serving probation in lieu of jail or prison time). However, if prosecutors believe they have one or two strong charges against you, they may bring other charges to increase their bargaining power in plea negotiations.

Your lawyer can help you determine if the prosecution can prove that you committed any crime beyond a reasonable doubt and see if it is beneficial to accept the plea bargain or take your case to trial.

Trial

At trial, the defense and prosecution present their cases by introducing physical evidence and having witnesses testify. As we mentioned before, the jury is instructed to review all the evidence presented at trial and determine whether the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The jury must unanimously find a defendant either guilty or not guilty. If you are convicted at trial, the prosecution can recommend the highest sentence possible.

How can having a criminal record affect my life?

A criminal record will follow you long after your arrest and conviction. It will turn up on background checks, and that can complicate:

  • Getting loans
  • Finding housing
  • Applying for jobs
  • Receiving security clearance
  • Acquiring professional licenses

Essentially, a criminal record can be a mark on your personal history that will serve as a barrier for a long time.

Why is it important to hire a criminal defense attorney early in your case?

Your right to remain silent is your first and most potent tool in your defense. However, staying silent will only go so far. An attorney can take point on communicating with police and managing the charges against you. Much of the early traction in a case is made without a lawyer present, so you can make a significant positive impact on your case by getting a lawyer as soon as possible.

What is the difference between a DUI and OWI?

In a sense, driving under the influence (DUI) and operating while intoxicated (OWI) are synonyms. There are some other minor, highly technical differences between the two charges. However, the fact is that the charge in Michigan is OWI, and there are no DUIs. While often both attorneys and authorities refer to it as a DUI, it is not.

Can you refuse a breathalyzer test in Michigan?

Refusing a breathalyzer violates Michigan’s implied consent law and comes with significant penalties, including an extended license suspension.

How does criminal history impact the outcome of a case?

Your criminal history can impact the case in many ways. The prosecution can use your record to establish a pattern. In certain cases, a criminal history leads to more severe penalties.

Do first-time offenders go to jail?

Jail and prison time depend on the nature of the offense, regardless of whether it’s your first offense or not. However, generally speaking, first-time defendants of most nonviolent misdemeanor offenses will not be punished with jail time.

Why was I arrested but not yet charged?

Believe it or not, this is rather common, especially in cases involving lab-tested evidence, like drunk driving offenses. Arrests are made by the police department. Charges are made by the prosecution. In between making an arrest and pressing charges, the prosecutor will need to examine the evidence to determine if they will press charges. When this determination relies on evidence from the lab, there’s often a delay between the arrest date and formal charges.

Should I accept a plea bargain?

It’s never a good idea to accept a plea bargain before speaking with a qualified criminal defense attorney who has taken the time to review the specifics of your case. Because plea deals are typically negotiated as a bargaining chip to push your case through the system as fast as possible, prematurely accepting a plea deal when your case is strong enough to hold up at trial could hurt you more than help you. An attorney can help you make this decision.

It’s also important to note that any plea agreement presented to you will be in the best interest of the state, which may or may not translate to being in your own best interests. Remember, the prosecution is not on your side, making it wise to question any sort of plea deal they may offer you.

Finally, accepting a plea deal means you forfeit your right to an appeal. Sentence terms are not guaranteed at the time the prosecutor offers you a plea deal, which means accepting it puts you at risk of unfair sentencing, even if you think the deal is in your best interests. If you accept the deal, waive your right to trial, and are then unfairly sentenced, you might not be able to appeal the sentence.

Is it ok to use a public defender?

When facing criminal accusations of any nature, we highly recommend hiring a private attorney over accepting representation from a public defender. The reason is that public defenders are court-appointed attorneys funded by the government. This means that, unlike private law firms, a public defender’s scope of practice is limited by restricted time and resources, not to mention authority, specialization and relationships.

In Michigan, it’s not uncommon for a single public defender to be tasked with handling 100+ cases at any given time, making it nearly impossible for them to provide you with the attention you not only need but deserve. Furthermore, public defenders must request funds to cover the costs associated with basic best practices like investigations and securing expert testimonies. Without the funds to support these initiatives, a public defender will be hard-pressed to properly prepare your case for trial, and your outcome could suffer as a result.

Will my case be dismissed if the victim wants to drop charges?

Unfortunately, not necessarily. Prosecutors charge defendants based on the assumption that the defendant has committed a crime against the state of Michigan. The charge represents a violation of state law, not a violation of a person. According to this rationale, victims are considered witnesses who can be called upon to provide information and facts to the prosecutor or police department, which are then used by the prosecutor to make a charge. Whether or not the victim wishes to drop the charges will have little to no bearing on the prosecutor’s ultimate decision.

Schedule A Free Consultation

Our legal team at Scozzari Law, PLLC, can thoroughly assess your case, figure out all your available legal options and help you obtain the most favorable outcome in your case. Whether it is in your best interests to accept a plea deal or take your case to trial, we will explore every possibility before you make such crucial life-altering decisions.

Contact us today at 616-828-0687 to speak with our Grand Rapids criminal defense lawyers and learn how we can help you!