All cases for crimes committed within Otsego County begin in the District Court if the defendant is 17 years old or older. If the defendant is under age 17 the case begins in the Family Court.
The District Court has one judge and four magistrates who can hear cases. While a judge can handle any court case, magistrates are restricted to certain duties. Magistrates can issue arrest and search warrants, conduct arraignments, set bonds, and remand defendants to the County Jail. They can accept pleas on a limited number of offenses and conduct hearings on contested traffic tickets.
The following explains what happens in the District Court after you are arrested.
When you are charged with a felony or misdemeanor offense, you first appear in court for arraignment. During your arraignment the court tells you the specific criminal charges being brought against you, advises you of your constitutional rights, and notifies you whether or not you are eligible to be released on bond, and the amount of the bond. If you cannot afford an attorney, you may ask the court to appoint one for you.
Arraignments are held in front of a magistrate or judge.
If you are arrested for a felony, your arraignment normally follows the day after your arrest. Felony arraignments are held before a judge or a magistrate who sets a date for a preliminary exam within 14 calendar days following arraignment. If you are eligible and able to post bond, then you are released to appear on your preliminary examination date. If you are not eligible for a bond or cannot post it, you are sent to the county jail until your examination date.
Pre-trial or Preliminary examination
For individuals arrested and arraigned on misdemeanor violations, the pretrial examination is the next step of the legal process. You have the right to be represented by legal counsel at this hearing. If you signed an appointment of counsel form at or following your arraignment, an attorney appointed by the court to represent you.
After your pre-trial, your case can take one of two paths in the judicial process. If it is your intent to plead guilty or no contest, your plea will be accepted and the sentencing will follow.
If your intent is to go to trial, you will notify the judge whether you want a jury or bench trial. The judge will set the trial date.
If you are charged with a felony and you are bound over to the Circuit Court after your preliminary examination hearing in the District Court, your case will be transferred to a Circuit Court judge. If you are a candidate for one of the specialty courts that operate in Otsego County (Drug Court or Mental Health Court), then the cases will be transferred to the Recovery Court judge regardless of original jurisdiction.
If you are a juvenile, your criminal case is handled in the Family Court. You will be contacted by the clerk to appear before the Family Court judge or referee. The Family Court judge will determine the appropriate handling of your case, depending on the offense, and prior involvement with the judicial system.
Who do I contact if I have any Questions about a Case?
You can contact the Clerk if you have procedural questions. However, clerks cannot give legal advice. It is recommended that you talk to your attorney at all times, if you are represented by one.
Where do I go if I want to post bond for someone being arraigned at the District Division?
During regular court business hours, bonds can be posted at the clerk's office. After-hours you must go to the county jail to post bond.
Probation Services and Duties
Felony Probation and/or Parole is handled by a State agency called Department of Corrections. It is not a division of the local court. To contact this department, see Other Links.
In the District Court, the Probation Department supervises and assists persons placed on probation, conducts investigations, and prepares pre-sentence reports. This department handles misdemeanor convictions.
Probation is an option that the court can use in determining the penalty a defendant receives for a criminal conviction. It is not a right guaranteed a defendant. By the granting of probation, the court imposes a sentence. The court has determined that the defendant is not likely to engage in further criminal activity and that the defendant is not a threat to the public. The maximum length of a sentence to probation in the District Court may not be greater than two years. The maximum length of a sentence to probation in the Circuit Court may not be greater than five years.
In addition to the general conditions of probation, the court may require the defendant to carry out other special conditions, such as:
- Attending certain programs
- Refraining from certain activities
- Performing community service
- Serving time in jail
At the end of the probation period, and when the probationer (the person placed on probation) has met all of the conditions of probation, the probation officer will submit a Petition to Discharge to the judge.
What happens if I don't do what the Court has ordered?
You will be in violation of your probation and may be returned to court for a show cause hearing, in which it is determined whether or not you should be held in contempt of court for not following the conditions of your probation.
What if I do not appear for a show cause hearing?
The court will issue a bench warrant for your arrest.
OUI Alcohol Assessment
In 1983, a law was established in Michigan requiring any person arrested and convicted for any alcohol-related driving violation to undergo an alcohol assessment. This assessment is completed before a person is sentenced. The alcohol assessment is used to determine if a person does or does not have a substance abuse problem, and if so, whether rehabilitation will benefit the person. The defendant is responsible for paying the cost of the screening and assessment and all rehabilitative services.
Do I have to give a urine sample or take a blood test?
Yes, if requested to do so.
What is a pre-sentence report and the Probation Department?
A pre-sentence report is written by a probation officer after a pre-sentence investigation is conducted. This report is used too obtain detailed knowledge of the defendant's background and current circumstances, to know if the defendant is a threat to society, or if there are any needs the defendant has which can be addressed through probation. The report will contain a sentence recommendation to the judge with supporting facts for that recommendation.
A judge may order you to attend and successfully complete different treatment programs. Some of the more common programs are:
- Substance Abuse program
- Victim's Impact Panel Program
- Domestic Abuse Intervention Program
- Driver Improvements Program
The Probation Department will monitor your success in these programs if you are ordered to attend one or several of them. If you were ordered to the Community Service Program, your successful completion of that program will also be monitored by a probation officer.
The Community Service Program was developed both to handle overcrowded jails and to find a way that those indigent people convicted of a misdemeanor could provide restitution to the community. Community service is not a reward. It is a form of punishment that returns something to the community.
What is community service and the Sheriff’s Work Camp?
Community service is an alternative sentence where offenders work for nonprofit or governmental organizations as volunteers. You will be assigned to the sheriff’s work camp to perform the community service ordered. The sheriff will monitor your work and report progress back to the judge
What type of organizations are used in this program?
Any nonprofit organization that has a 501C3 tax exempt status and liability insurance is eligible. At times a ‘for-profit’ organization may be used if there is a potential of the defendant actually obtaining employment from that organization in the future. Types of work might include clerical, kitchen maintenance, child care, yard work, coaching, data entry, or meal delivery to senior citizen.
What happens if I have a medical problem and can't work?
If you have a medical problem that you believe would interfere with your community service activity, you must present some type of document from your doctor describing what your limitations are. If you are ruled ineligible, the judge will be sent this document to make a determination. Even if you have some physical limitations, a position may still be found for you.
Otsego County Courts