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​Misdemeanor Matters

The following is a brief description of a traffic and nontraffic misdemeanor case. There is no specific information available in this Self-Help Center to aid you with the entire legal process.   Unless you waive the right to an attorney, you must be represented by an attorney in a traffic or nontraffic misdemeanor case.
A traffic or nontraffic misdemeanor case begins when a law enforcement officer issues a Uniform Law Citation (ticket) claiming you have violated a state law or a local ordinance (local law) when the penalty for that offense includes a jail sentence for 93 days or less. In these situations, no warrant is necessary for your arrest. If you are arrested for a violation for which the penalty exceeds 93 days in jail, the charge cannot be issued on a ticket and the prosecutor must authorize the filing of a complaint. If the defendant has not already been arrested, a warrant for arrest will be issued as well.
The law enforcement officer is usually considered the complainant and issues the ticket or the police report that produces a complaint and warrant for the plaintiff. The plaintiff is either the People of the State of Michigan or a city, village, township, or other local government unit and is represented by the prosecutor. If you receive a ticket or are arrested on a misdemeanor warrant, you are considered the defendant.

Types of Traffic and Nontraffic Misdemeanor Cases

Some of the more common traffic and nontraffic misdemeanor cases are assault and battery, vandalism, shoplifting, trespassing, prostitution, disorderly conduct, reckless driving, and first or second drunk driving offenses. They are usually handled by the district court closest to where the crime occurred.

What Happens If You are Arrested

If you have been arrested for breaking a criminal law and a ticket is not issued, you will be promptly taken to the district court for an arraignment. You will be held by the police or sheriff until a bond is set and/or the arraignment takes place. The arresting police department will know where and when the arraignment will take place.
The arraignment is held before a district court judge or magistrate. At the arraignment, the judge or magistrate will explain to you (the defendant) the charges, your constitutional rights, and the possible consequences if you plead guilty or are convicted after trial of the charge. You will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty, or you may stand mute. If bond was not previously set, the court will determine whether you can be released on bond and, if so, will set the bail amount and collect the bail.
The court may appoint an attorney to represent you if you are unable to afford an attorney. In a criminal case, a defendant who is unable to afford an attorney has the right to court-appointed counsel if the offense charged requires on conviction a minimum term in jail, or the court determines that it might sentence the defendant to jail. If you do not plan to hire your own attorney, you should ask the court if you qualify for court-appointed counsel. See information about court appointed attorney.
If you have been stopped for drinking and driving, you may be charged with one of three misdemeanor offenses. The first is operating while intoxicated, the second offense is operating while visibly impaired, and the third offense is operating with any alcohol content in the body (applies only to persons under 21 years of age). You may also be charged with operating under the influence of drugs. There are also felony offenses involving drunk driving, including operating while intoxicated or operating while visibly impaired causing death or serious injury, and child endangerment.
If you are a Michigan resident and are arrested for drinking and driving, the law enforcement officer will take and destroy your driver's license. The officer will provide you with a temporary Michigan driving permit until your case is resolved.
If you are stopped for drinking and driving by a law enforcement officer, you may be asked to take a breath test while on the road. This breath test is called a PBT or a preliminary breath test. If you refuse to take the PBT, a civil infraction ticket may be issued for refusing to take the breath test.
You will be taken to a police department to take a breathalyzer test. If you refuse, your driver's license may be suspended.

Bail and Types of Bonds

A person, called a defendant, who is arrested for breaking a criminal law, may be held until a bail amount is set or an arraignment is held by a judge or magistrate. Posting a bond is a promise that the defendant will appear in court when required and will refrain from any activity the judge or magistrate orders.
The four types of bonds are: a personal recognizance bond, a cash bond, a ten percent bond, and a surety bond, and are explained below:
  • When the court sets a personal recognizance bond, the defendant is released after making a promise to return to court when required. No money is paid.
  • A cash bond is a money guarantee that the defendant will return to court when required. When a cash bond is set, the defendant must pay the full bail amount to the court before being released from jail.
  • Another type of bond is a ten percent bond. In this bond, the court will accept payment of ten percent of the full bail amount as a guarantee that the defendant will appear as required. If the defendant does not appear, the court will require payment of the remaining ninety percent.
  • The last type of bond is a surety bond. A surety bond is a promise made by an approved bondsman that the defendant will appear as required. A bondsman must prove to the court that he or she has sufficient financial resources to pay the full bail amount if the defendant does not appear as required.

Money or property that is posted for a bond might not be returned when the case is over. The court may apply cash and ten-percent bond money posted by the defendant to pay any outstanding court fines, costs, or other assessments.
Regardless of the type of bond, if the defendant does not return to court as promised, the court will issue an arrest warrant and the bond money will be forfeited. In addition, the defendant may be held responsible for paying the remaining unpaid bail amount.

What if You are Issued a Traffic or Nontraffic Misdemeanor Ticket Instead of Getting Arrested

If you have received a ticket, follow the directions on the ticket. It is important to read both sides of the ticket. The ticket will state your rights and tell you what you need to do to respond to the ticket, including how and where to appear. You can dispute the ticket at a trial. To request a trial you must do what it says on the back of the ticket.
If you are under the age of 17 and have received a misdemeanor traffic ticket, you must appear at the court specified on the ticket, which may be either the district court or the family division of the circuit court. You will be notified to appear for a preliminary hearing. At the preliminary hearing, you will plead guilty, not guilty, or you may stand mute and be notified of the next hearing date. Your parents or legal guardian should be present during all proceedings. If you fail to appear for the hearing, an order may be issued to the police to bring you to court.
If you are 17 years of age or older and have received a misdemeanor ticket, you are usually required to go to court for an arraignment. If you plead not guilty or stand mute, you will be scheduled for a pretrial conference with the prosecutor. You may have an attorney represent you at the pretrial conference. If you cannot resolve the ticket at the pretrial conference, you may have a trial before a judge or jury. If you do not appear in court when scheduled to do so, a warrant will be issued for your arrest.

Processing Traffic and Nontraffic Misdemeanor Cases

Traffic and nontraffic misdemeanor tickets are filed in court by the law enforcement officer who issued the tickets and complaints are filed by the prosecutor. It is your responsibility to respond to the ticket or an order to appear.
If a hearing is required, you may be represented by an attorney and have a right to a trial by a judge or jury. You may want to talk to an attorney prior to your hearing. The prosecutor or city attorney must prove that you are guilty.

Penalties for Traffic and Nontraffic Misdemeanors

If convicted of a misdemeanor, you may be sentenced to jail.
If you are 17 years of age or older and are convicted of a traffic misdemeanor, you may be required to pay a fine and costs. Points will be added to your driving record by the Secretary of State, and some convictions may result in jail sentences. You may also be ordered to attend counseling, a driver safety course, or other program.
If you are under 17 years of age and found responsible for a traffic misdemeanor, you may be put on probation, be sent to a driver improvement course, and points will be added to your driving record. If a hearing is required, you may be represented by an attorney and have a right to a trial by a judge or jury. The prosecutor must prove that you are guilty.
If you are 17 years of age or older and have been convicted of an offense, your sentence may include probation. Probation allows you to live in the community as long as you follow certain rules set by the court. If any of the rules are violated, a warrant for your arrest may be issued and the judge may resentence you. As an example of a probationary sentence, the judge may decide that so long as you are not arrested again, and regularly meet with your probation officer, you may not have to serve a jail or prison sentence.
Points are added to your driving record by the Secretary of State as required by law if you are found guilty of most traffic misdemeanors. The court does not assign points and cannot dismiss or waive them. Many convictions will result in additional fees assessed by the Secretary of State, ranging from $50.00 to $1,000.00 for each year the points remain on the driving record. These fees, payable to the Secretary of State, are in addition to fines and costs assessed by the court.
Points remain on a driver's record for two years from the date of the finding of responsibility or conviction, and the offense appears on the driving record for seven to ten years depending upon the type of offense. Convictions and accidents may also affect car insurance rates.
Depending on the offense, or if a person gets too many points, the Secretary of State may put the driver on probation or suspend or revoke his or her license.
If you want to find out the number of points on your driving record, call 517-322-1460. You cannot obtain this information about another person's driving record.
If you want to obtain a copy of your driving record, contact your local Secretary of State branch office. There may be a charge for this service and it may take up to four weeks. If you are in the Lansing area, you can obtain a copy of your driving record at the Secretary of State office located at 7064 Crowner Drive, Lansing, Michigan.