I feel that a crime has been committed. How do I press charges? Can I report a crime directly to the Prosecutor’s Office?

Crimes are investigated by the police, not the prosecutor. Crimes should be reported to the police department or other law enforcement agency which has jurisdiction where the crime occurred. In Emmet, Charlevoix and Cheboygan Counties, all complaints should be called into the 9-1-1 system. The dispatchers will be able to determine what police agency needs to respond.

Once the initial investigation has been completed, and the investigating officer believes a crime may have occurred, the police agency’s report will be filed with the prosecuting attorneys office. The prosecutor or assistant prosecutor reviewing the report may send the case back to the police agency for further investigation, deny the issuance of a criminal complaint and warrant, or issue a criminal complaint and warrant. The reviewing prosecutor decides what charge(s), if any, will be issued and when the charges should be issued.

How do I press counter-charges against someone?

This request generally arises from assault cases. Regardless of whether you have already been charged, if you believe that a crime has been committed against you, you must go to the police agency that did the initial investigation to file a complaint and request an investigation. Your case will be reviewed on its own merits.

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I am the victim, and I want to drop the charge(s). 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 People of the State of Michigan,” not the person or 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, 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 prosecutor, the victim’s opinion is important, and the prosecutor will take those wishes into account when making decisions regarding the case. A variety of factors are taken into account when deciding whether to honor a victim’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, and the future danger the defendant poses to the community (including the current victim).

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I read in the newspaper or hear on radio or television that a case has been plea bargained. What is a plea bargain and why is it done?

A plea bargain is a negotiated settlement of a criminal case where both sides give and take. Usually, this involves the defendant giving up his/her constitutional rights such as the right to a jury trial and the right to make the prosecution prove his/her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in return for an agreement that limits the charges and/or possible punishments that could be imposed. The prosecution obtains a conviction without the expense of going to trial and having to prove the defendant’s guilt.

Plea agreements are reached for various reasons. They often vary from case to case. The criminal justice system (and the entire court system) would not function without plea bargaining. With the number of cases, the courts would have to be in session virtually around the clock seven days a week.

For instance, statistics for a recent year in Emmet County showed that there were over 1750 criminal cases and 183 paternity/support establishment cases handled by the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. This number does not take into account all of the other work done by the office, including juvenile hearings and civil work on behalf of the county. There are only four full-time attorneys assigned to handle the criminal cases, along with their other duties.  To process these criminal complaints, the four attorneys handle approximately 13,000 scheduled court events per year.

What if plea bargaining were not allowed? Let’s assume that one half of these people would have pled guilty anyway (more likely that it would be less than one half). Now we are down to at least 875 cases for trial. With four prosecutors handling cases, that would be 219 cases for each attorney to conduct a trial.

By the time you take into account holidays and weekends, there are only about 250 work days per year. That would mean each prosecutor would have to be involved in an actual trial almost each working day. It also does not take into account all the other work that each trial involves, such as charging decisions, search warrants, arraignments, pretrial conferences, motions, preliminary examinations, other hearings, trial preparation and sentencing. Many trials often take more than one day. We would have to have more courtrooms for each of our trial courts.

Additionally, we have a District Court judge who is shared with Charlevoix County. So, approximately fifty per cent of the time, our District Court judge is not here. This is the court where most of our trials occur. So we are down to 125 days in which trials could be held in only one courtroom. This also does not take into account all the other court activity that the judge handles, including civil cases.

Without plea bargains, we would have to add several more courtrooms, judges, court staff, prosecutors, court appointed attorneys, and bailiffs to handle the caseload. This could easily amount to $1,000,000 or more per year in addition to the current costs. Who would pay these added expenses? Of course, you, the taxpayer, through your property taxes and income tax would have to fund the courtrooms and personnel needed if plea bargaining did not occur.

In addition to financial considerations, some cases present their own unique problems, such as witnesses (especially victims of criminal sexual conduct) who do not want to go through a public trial, witnesses who have left the area and cannot be found, witnesses who may change their testimony to protect the defendant, or evidence that is suppressed for constitutional reasons.

Whatever the case may be, in many cases, the plea bargain results in virtually the same sentence for the defendant that would be imposed if the defendant were convicted of the original charge. Defendants in Michigan are generally subject to concurrent sentencing, which means that the sentence runs together with any other sentence rather than one sentence after another.

This means that if a defendant were convicted of four charges that carry a maximum penalty of ten years, the most the defendant could receive is ten years, not forty years. In that case, pleading guilty to one or two of the charges in return for the dismissal of the other charges would result in basically the same sentence.

Also, a defendant who pleads guilty gives up their automatic right to appeal their conviction and sentence. They may only appeal if the Court of Appeals gives them permission to do so. After a trial, a defendant has an automatic right to appeal. In this process, they may try to pick apart everything that occurred at trial by alleging many different types of errors with the hopes that their conviction is reversed for a new trial or dismissed altogether.

What is being said here doesn’t mean that we take a casual approach to plea bargaining. Each case is evaluated on its merits: the strength of the facts and the outcome sought. The bottom line is that we want to provide for the safety of the public and see that justice is served as best as possible.

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I want a restraining order to keep someone away from me. Will the Prosecuting Attorney do this for me?

A restraining order of this type today is called a Personal Protection Order (PPO). The prosecutor’s office cannot help with the filing of a PPO with the courts. However, we do assist with the enforcement of the PPO. Please see our web page that deals with PPOs.

The Prosecuting Attorney may be able to request the judge to add a “no contact” condition to the defendant’s bond if the defendant has been arrested and you are the victim of the crime.

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As the victim of the crime, how do I get my property back?

If your property was damaged or it was stolen and then recovered by the police, it can sometimes be returned to you before the case is done. In most cases, we need to keep the property secured in police custody until the case is finished. Ultimately, the decision whether evidence is released must be made by one of the attorneys in the prosecutor’s office. Contact the police agency handling your case if you want or need your property back. The police agency then will contact the prosecutor’s office to see if the return of the property is possible.

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The defendant is not paying court-ordered restitution. Who can help me?

Please call the probation department handling your case. It may be the Circuit Court probation department (231-348-1749) or the District Court probation department (231-348-1750) depending on whether the defendant was convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor. When you call, ask for the probation officer assigned to your case. It is best if you have the name of the defendant handy when you call.

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.

If the probation has expired and your restitution has not been paid in full, you can still recover from the defendant. The criminal case restitution order entered by the judge is a court order that does not expire when the probation ends. The restitution order is like having a judgment in a civil suit, except you do not have to start a civil suit. You can enforce the restitution order like any civil judgment through measures such as garnishment of wages, attachment of property, execution, etc. Please see a private attorney if you need assistance.

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Don’t victims have rights, too? Will the Prosecuting Attorney help me as a victim of crime?

Just as the defendant in a criminal case has rights, so to victims of crime now have rights. They are somewhat different than the defendant’s rights, but they do provide the victim an opportunity to be involved in the criminal case.

The Michigan Constitution as well as statutes give many victims of crime certain rights. The prosecutor’s office provides a staff person to help enforce the rights of the victim.

Please see our web page devoted to Crime Victims Rights.

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What if someone threatens me?

Concerns about your well-being and safety after being victimized or a witness to a crime are normal concerns. 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 your case. In an emergency situation, call 9-1-1. You need to 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.

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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. This is proper and not unusual. Keep in mind that you do not have to talk to anyone about the crime, including the defense attorney or an investigator for the defendant, prior to testifying in court.

If you choose to talk, always request proper identification and an explanation of the purpose of the interview. If you have concerns about talking with a defense attorney or their investigator, you are encouraged to contact the assistant prosecutor handling your case. It is possible that the assistant prosecutor may be able to be with you at the time of the interview.

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I have received a subpoena from the prosecutor’s office to appear as a witness in a criminal case.

Do I get paid for being there? What if I cannot be there on the date and time shown on the subpoena? What if I don’t show up when I am supposed to?

A witness is entitled to a witness fee of $6.00 per half day ($12.00 for the whole day) plus $0.10 per mile. I know this isn’t much, but this is the amount set by the Michigan Legislature. Neither the judge or I can change the amount. The prosecutor’s office vouchers all witness fees through the county’s finance board which must approve all expenditures. Therefore, you may not receive payment immediately — in fact it may take up to four to five weeks before you get your check.

If you cannot attend court at the date and time stated on your subpoena, please call the prosecutor’s office immediately and ask to speak to the Witness Coordinator or to the attorney whose name appears on the bottom of your subpoena. Unless you are excused, you must attend.

If you fail to appear at the date and time listed in the subpoena after being served with it, the judge could hold you in contempt of court. The judge could then impose a fine or jail sentence for your failure to appear. Don’t let that happen to you!

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How do I get out of jury duty?

Jury duty is one of the most important roles that a person can play in our criminal justice system, but all too often people want to get out of serving as a juror. All too often the people who complain the loudest about the criminal justice system being too easy on criminals and too many plea bargains being given are the first people who want to be excused from jury duty.

There are very few circumstances that allow a judge to excuse a person from jury duty. If you have been summoned to serve as a juror and believe you have a valid reason to be excused, you will need to contact the court office as soon as possible to let them know your situation. Only the judge can excuse you from service.

DO NOT FAIL TO SHOW UP unless you have been excused. Failure to appear for jury duty may result in the judge holding you in contempt of court. He could then impose a fine or jail sentence. Nobody wants that to happen to you!

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I feel I have been the victim of consumer fraud? Who can help me?

Most cases of consumer fraud are handled through the Consumer Protection Division of the Michigan Attorney General’s Office in Lansing. Their telephone number is 517-373-1140. They may be able to help or they may refer you to another agency that can help you.

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I want a divorce. I also need child support. Can the prosecutor’s office help me?

We cannot provide legal advice or assistance in the filing of a divorce action. You would need to contact a private lawyer for assistance, although some people handle their divorce without an attorney.

The prosecutor’s office can help to obtain a child support order if there is not a divorce action pending. Please see our web page on Family Support.

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I have been charged with a crime. How do I get a court appointed attorney?

The prosecutor’s office does not decide whether a person can obtain a court appointed attorney. You must ask the judge who is handling your case. The judge will decide if you are indigent (i.e., cannot afford to hire a lawyer) based on such things as your income, assets and financial obligations, as well as the seriousness of the charge(s).

On some misdemeanor cases, the judge may order that you appear at the pretrial conference on your own. If the case is not resolved at that time, the judge may then appoint an attorney to represent you. However, just because you may receive a court appointed attorney does not mean it is “free”. The judge may still order you to repay the County for your attorney’s bill.

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I don’t like my court appointed attorney. Can I talk to one of the prosecutors about my case?

No. Attorneys are governed by Michigan’s Rules of Professional Conduct, which prevent them from speaking directly to anyone who is represented by an attorney on the same matter. As long as you are represented by an attorney, the prosecutor’s office can only speak to your attorney. Any questions that you have about your case should be answered by your attorney. If you continue to be dissatisfied with your court appointed attorney, you will have to contact the judge who is handling your case.

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I have a complaint against your office. How do I contact you, and will you respond?

What if I have a question which is not answered in your FAQs?

You can call the prosecutor’s office and set up an appointment to meet with Mr. Linderman. The telephone number is 231-348-1725. Or, if you wish, you can send your question by e-mail to Mr. Linderman at the following address: jlinderman@emmetcounty.org.

Some questions may not be able to be answered. The Emmet County Prosecutor’s Office is not a “free legal clinic” or a clearinghouse giving free legal advice. We cannot give legal advice on private legal issues.

However, we strive to provide the best service possible. Even so, we sometimes make mistakes. I would like to hear from you if you feel we have not performed satisfactorily.

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