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What typically happens during a criminal prosecution in Michigan? What are the steps?
Please see our Anatomy of a Prosecution web page for a summary ... from the crime occurring through sentencing and appeals.
Am I a "crime victim"?
Under the Crime Victim's Rights Act (1987 PA 85), a "victim" means an individual who suffers direct or threatened physical, financial, or emotional harm as a result of the commission of a crime. If the victim is deceased, then that person's spouse, child, parent, guardian or grandparent might qualify. If the victim is a minor (under age 18), then the victim's parent, guardian, or custodian may choose to exercise the child-victim's rights. If the victim is mentally or emotionally unable to participate in the legal process, then his or her parent, guardian or custodian may exercise the rights.
What if someone threatens me?
Concerns about your well-being and safety after being victimized or witnessing a crime are normal. If you have any fears or receive any threats concerning your involvement in a case, you should immediately contact the law enforcement agency that investigated the case, or the Prosecuting Attorney's Office. In an emergency situation, call 911. Do so as soon as possible so that the threats can be documented and appropriate action taken. There are laws to protect you against people who attempt to bribe, intimidate, threaten, or harass you. Create a safety plan so you know what you would do if any threat concerns you.
How can I protect myself from being stalked?
If you feel that you are being stalked, you can do a lot of things to protect yourself. There is no single response that is appropriate for all stalking victims. Here are some suggestions:
- Contact your local law enforcement authorities.
- Get a Personal Protection Order from your county's Circuit Court. If you have PPO questions, contact your county's Prosecuting Attorney.
- Keep detailed records of all incidents. When possible, tape-record, videotape or photograph encounters. Make sure the harassment is officially noted in police reports so you can establish a history for court proceedings. Note the date, the time and place of each incident. Take photos of destroyed property or injuries. Keep all answering machine tapes for evidence, especially those that contain threats to harm or kill.
To help you document PPO violations, download our Stalking Victim's Log!
- Warn people about your situation. Tell family members, neighbors and co-workers to not give out personal information about you to anyone. At work, have visitors and phonecalls screened. Tell building security about your situation.
- Secure your home. Install good deadbolt locks and adequate outside lighting. Lock your windows.
- Change you daily travel route so the stalker cannot easily follow you. Do not walk alone.
- Get a second, unlisted phone line or a cellphone so that your answering machine can record threats. You can pick up calls from family and friends on your private line. Give your private line number out to only a few trusted people.
- Contact groups that can help, such as the National Organization for Victim Assistance (1-800-879-6682), the EVE, Inc. (End Violent Encounters; 517-372-5572), or a local women's shelter in your area.
- Do not try to talk sense into a stalker or agree to meet your stalker to "clarify things."
- Do not plead with the stalker to be left alone. It does no good. Call the police.
- Do not return gifts or send back letters. In many cases this, has caused the stalking to intensify. Keep items for documentation and evidence.
- Do not come to the stalker's aid if the person fakes a crisis to make you feel guilty. If the stalker threatens suicide, call the police to assist.
- If your stalker is an ex-lover, forget about reconciliation.
- Be prepared. Have quick access to telephone numbers and locations of police departments, emergency shelters or friends' homes. Keep money and a packed suitcase available with your important documents for a quick departure. Create a safety plan for yourself.
What if the defense attorney contacts me?
In representing a client, a defense attorney may contact you and want to talk to you about the case. Keep in mind that you do not have to talk to anyone about the crime, including the defense attorney or their investigator prior to testifying in court. If you choose to do so, always request proper identification and an explanation of the purpose of the interview. If you have any concerns about talking with a defense attorney or their investigator, you are encouraged to contact the Assistant Prosecuting Attorney in charge of your case and to have him/her with you at the time of the interview.
Can you tell me what the defendant's sentence will be?
Sentencing in Michigan varies with the crime and can be the most confusing part of the criminal process. A few crimes have mandatory sentences, but most often the sentences are at the judge's discretion. Because of that, a prosecutor can only guess (or hope) what the actual sentence may be.
- Misdemeanor offenses generally carry a maximum sentence of 90 days or 1 year in the county jail, can result in probation for up to 2 years, counseling, community service and driver's license sanctions.
- Felony offenses range from a minimum sentence of 366 days to a maximum of life in prison. Sometimes, the statutory maximum time for an individual crime is lengthened because the defendant is a repeat offender. In addition to incarceration in jail or prison, convicted felons may be sentenced to probation.
I am the victim and I want to drop the charge. Can I?
Many people incorrectly believe that a victim has the power to "press charges" against the wrongdoer, or to later "drop the charges". All crimes are offenses against the community, not just the individual victim. Criminal complaints are prosecuted on behalf of the State of Michigan, not the people who called the police or those who were personally harmed by the defendant's conduct. ONLY the Prosecuting Attorney can issue or dismiss charges. This is important because it takes the responsibility for prosecuting the wrongdoer off the victim's shoulders and puts it on the Prosecuting Attorney's, where it legally belongs. It also means that the defendant cannot "pressure" the victim into dropping the charges.
Although the decision whether to prosecute or not prosecute is ultimately up to the Prosecuting Attorney, the victim's opinion is important and the Prosecuting Attorney will take those wishes into account when making his or her decisions regarding the case. A variety of factors are taken into account when deciding whether to honor a complainant's request not to proceed with a prosecution, including the nature and extent of the defendant's prior criminal history, the severity of the alleged crime, whether the defendant has other pending charges in the criminal justice system, and future danger the defendant poses to the community (including the current victim).
The judge ordered the defendant to pay restitution to me, but so far I haven't received anything. Who can help me?
Call the District or Circuit Court's probation department at the Courthouse --- (517) 543-7500 --- and ask for the probation agent who is assigned to the defendant. Update the probation officer if payments have not been made and the probation officer can help you get your money if restitution was a condition of the defendant's probation, and if the defendant is still on probation. Otherwise, see a private lawyer, because the restitution order is a court order that you can enforce like any civil judgment.
How do I get my property back?
If your property was stolen and recovered by the police, it can sometimes be returned to you before the case is done; if the items are important pieces of evidence, in most cases we will need to keep the property secured in police custody. Ultimately, the decision whether evidence is released must be made by one of our office's attorneys.
Download our Request for Return of Property form, or contact Jody Strang, our Victim-Witness Coordinator at (517) 543-4835, for a copy. Return the completed form to our office so an APA can review it. You may be asked to present pictured identification.
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