What is a Probable Cause Conference in Michigan?
A probable cause conference is a court hearing that precedes the preliminary examination. Both hearings are part of what are more broadly referred to as your due process rights. Your attendance at a probable cause conference is mandatory. Both you and your attorney will usually receive the initial date for your probable cause conference at the arraignment.
The probable cause conference is governed by Michigan Compiled Laws § 766.4 and Michigan Court Rule 6.108. The probable cause conference must be held not less than 7 days or more than 14 days after the date of the arraignment. The probable cause conference will take place at the district court having jurisdiction over the matter. However, district court jurisdiction is limited relative to felony cases in that district court judges do not have the authority to sentence a felony offender and do not have the authority to preside over trial on a felony matter.
Generally, the purpose of a probable cause conference is to determine if the case can be resolved without going any further or if a preliminary examination is necessary before the case can proceed toward trial at the circuit court.
There are several outcomes and objectives for the prosecution and defense to consider at the probable cause conference. During or prior to the probable cause conference, the prosecutor and the defense counsel may discuss possible resolution of the case through a plea agreement. Other matters that might be discussed include bond modification and other pretrial issues. If a preliminary examination will be required, then the parties can also discuss issues related to the evidence to be presented and stipulations or agreements may be reached regarding the witnesses to be called and the timing of their testimony.
The probable cause conference is mandatory unless waived by both the prosecution and the defense. If the parties agree to waive the probable cause conference, then a written document must be presented to the court indicating that the preliminary examination will be waived or held, or alternatively, if the case will be resolved through the entering of a plea. In most instances all of this will occur in open court on the record rather than by writing.
As a practical matter the probable cause conference is usually not conducted on the first date that it is set. This is because it usually takes longer than 7 to 14 days after the arraignment for the discovery to be complete. A meaningful probable cause conference cannot be held until discovery is complete. Also, plea negotiations are usually not possible until discovery is complete. For these reasons the probable cause conference is nearly always adjourned at least one time.
You should discuss the probable cause conference with your attorney a few days prior to the hearing so that you know what the game plan is and can thereby participate in the decision making and overall defense of your case. During this discussion you will also learn the status of the discovery in your case, whether the prosecutor will contest the bond previously set, whether your lawyer will be seeking a modification (lowering) of your bond, and whether you will be conducting or waiving the preliminary examination in your case.
Your attorney can also discuss with you any specific requirements for the probable cause conference that may be specific to the court where your case is pending. While all Michigan courts are governed by the same statutes and court rules, it is not unusual for each district court to have their own peculiarities relative to the exact way the probable cause conference is conducted.