District and Circuit Courts, and What They Do

There are numerous Courts in any given state, and Michigan is no different. For purposes of Criminal Law, only the following three matter.

The District Court

All adult criminal cases begin in what is called a District Court. Juvenile Cases, which involve children charged with crimes, and not adults, are heard in a division of the County Probate Court. For Criminal purposes, the District Court, which is located in the city where the alleged crime was committed, serves two purposes, depending on whether a case is charged as a Misdemeanor or a Felony.

In Misdemeanor Cases, the District Court will hear and handle all of the proceedings, beginning with an arraignment, including the Pre-Trial right up through the Trial, if any, and all the way to the sentencing.

In Felony Cases, the District Court likewise handles the arraignment. Felony Cases, however, are handled in the County’s Circuit Court. The District Court’s role after arraigning a Defendant is limited to the scheduling and disposition of the Preliminary Exam. All further Proceedings in a Felony Case are heard in the Circuit Court.

District Court Judge’s have authority to sentence a person to up to 1 year in the County Jail. A District Judge cannot sentence anyone to more than 1 year, and therefore they cannot send anyone to the State Prison.

The Circuit Court

Every County in Michigan has a Circuit Court. In Macomb County, it’s in Downtown Mt. Clemens (across the street from my office.) In Oakland County, it’s in Pontiac. In Wayne County, it’s in Detroit.

In any given County, all of the Felony Cases from all of the District Courts are eventually turned over to that County’s Circuit Court.

Circuit Court Judges have the authority to sentence a person to, depending on their crimes, up to life in the State Prison. Of Course, they can also NOT send someone to Jail or Prison.

The Probate Court

As far as Criminal Cases go, those cases which involve a child-defendant are heard in the Juvenile Court, which is a specific division of the County Probate Court. Pretty much everyone is familiar with those high-profile cases where it is decided that a Juvenile should be tried as an adult. Those are the exceptions. For most kids 16 or younger, any criminal charges will be brought and heard in the Juvenile Court system. Punishment in Juvenile Court can range from Probationary Sentences to incarceration in the County Youth Home, or even the State’s maximum-security Juvenile Detention Facility.

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