If you have been charged with a crime in Michigan, you will have to decide if you should plead guilty or go to trial. You should make this decision only with the assistance of your Michigan criminal lawyer, who can explain to you the advantages of the plea offer and contrast them with the advantages or disadvantages of trial. Once you’ve made your decision to plead guilty, your case will be set for a plea hearing. This is when the court will take your plea, and after which your case will be set for sentencing.
Prior to your court hearing you may be asked to review and sign a plea form. In federal court this is referred to as a Rule 11 agreement. Most, but not all, state courts also use written plea forms. When used, plea forms set forth the terms of the plea and usually include a recitation of any possible sentence. If yours is a state case, and there is a Cobbs agreement, then this sentencing agreement will also appear on the plea form. Your signed plea agreement will be provided to the court and the judge will confirm that your signature appears on this document.
As it relates to the plea hearing itself, there are two parts to any plea; the first is the advice of rights, and the second is the factual basis. With the advice of rights, the court’s primary interest is to confirm, through question and answer, that you understand all the constitutional rights you give up by pleading guilty. Most state district courts will use standard form 213, which you are often asked to sign at your arraignment. These constitutional rights include all your trial rights and include the following:
- The right to plead not guilty and to persist in that plea.
- The right to have a trial before a judge or a jury if you choose.
- The right to have an attorney represent and assist you with the trial, and that you can get a court appointed lawyer if you need one.
- At trial, you would have the right to call witnesses and seek the court’s order to compel witnesses to testify on your behalf.
- You also do not have to testify at the trial, no one can compel you and the jury cannot consider your silence when deliberating.
- You also have the right to present evidence in your own behalf at trial, to be presumed innocent during the trial, and to make the government meet its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
Once the court is satisfied that you are “freely, knowingly and understandingly” giving up your constitutional rights, the court will next move into the taking of the factual basis for the plea. This is where the court will ask you to state, in your own words, why you think you are guilty of the crime charged. At this time, you must verbally provide to the court a brief description of those actions that you believe fulfill each element of the crime, and therefore, the actions that make you guilty. It may be helpful for you to collaborate with your lawyer prior to the plea so you will be prepared to make this statement of fact. Your statement will need to address each of the elements of the crime and the specific actions you took to fulfill those elements.
After your factual recitation and admission of responsibility the court will make a finding that you are guilty and that the plea is voluntary and that there is a sufficient factual basis to accept the plea. A sentencing date will then be set.
Between the date of the plea and the date for sentencing you will visit with the court’s probation department, and they will interview you, collect a written summary of your version of the events, and will investigate your background. The probation department will then prepare a Pre-Sentence Investigation and Report (PSIR) that will contain all of this information and will make a recommendation to the judge relative to sentencing. If you are facing a Michigan DUI charge, then the probation officer will also administer the NEEDS assessment to help them and the court determine if you may have a substance use disorder. Your lawyer will have an opportunity to review the PSIR with you prior to sentencing.