The MIP Court Process in Michigan

Who To Know and How To Act

You have been given a ticket for Minor in Possession of alcohol or “MIP”. What do you do next? PANIC? No need to panic as long as you follow this guide on the court process. The first thing that you need to know is that in Michigan, possessing or consuming alcohol as a minor (MIP) is a criminal offense and is considered to be a misdemeanor.

The penalties for Minor in Possession will vary depending on whether it is your first, second or third offense. However, you need to remember that if you are convicted for an MIP, you will be considered a criminal no different than an assault or battery.

In addition, the police may choose to charge you with additional offenses such as excessive noise, urinating in public or littering. Therefore, you need to figure out exactly what the police have charged you with. In most cases, you can look at the written ticket that was given to you that night. Don’t have it or lost it? Don’t panic! See the section below on court clerks.

In Michigan, you will be given a ticket spelling out exactly what you have been charged with and your next court date. A district court will be assigned to handle your case. They are called district courts as there may be several districts within a particular county. You should be sure to check your ticket very carefully to determine which lower court is handling your case.

Do not assume that you know the location of the court or that because you live in a certain district that your local court is handling your case. Many times there are lines drawn in the state that determine where your case will be handled, so be sure to check for an address and phone number on your ticket. You can call the court and ask a clerk to verify that your case is being handled in their court and they can also give you the date and time of your next hearing.

Court Clerks Can Be Your Best Resource!

Getting to know the district court clerks is essential in protecting your rights and determining how to proceed with your case. Some will be very helpful and can tell you their policies on first time offenders, diversion programs, and the general court process. However, they are not able to give any legal advice by Michigan law. Some clerks are extremely burdened with high case loads and will be less helpful over the phone. You may have better luck showing up in person and speaking with a clerk at the counter.

Either way, always be extremely polite and do not lose your temper with any of the court staff. They will remember your name and can pass this information on to the prosecutors and sometimes even the judge.

I have had court clerks inform me that defendants:

  • Smelled of alcohol
  • Were rude & obnoxious
  • Refused to take their hats off when asked

All of these behaviors make an attorney’s job tougher and can potentially hurt your case. Be sure to have your information ready, including your full name and address, your ticket number, and your identifying information. I cannot stress enough how helpful getting to know your local court clerk can be in navigating your way through the court process.

Arraignment Equals First Appearance

In Michigan, most of the district courts have the same process for handling misdemeanor charges, such as Minor in Possession of alcohol. Depending on whether or not it is an ordinance violation or a state violation, the individual student will be given a ticket or citation that will have the charges listed on the ticket itself.

It will typically give you an appearance date or will give you a certain amount of time within which to go into the court to have your first hearing date, called an arraignment. An arraignment is simply a hearing date where the court must explain the charges to the individual and find out how they plead to the charge. A defendant can plead guilty, not guilty or stand mute (remain silent). If a defendant stands mute, the court will automatically enter a not guilty plea on his or her behalf.

Plead NOT GUILTY Or Stand Mute!

This is without doubt the most important piece of information on this site. Many students misunderstand their right to plead not guilty or to stand mute (stay silent) at their first appearance. They wrongly think that because they did drink and were caught that they will get in more trouble with the judge and the court if they do not plead guilty. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Our justice system cannot, and I repeat, CANNOT punish you for exercising your right to plead not guilty so that you can discuss your case with a prosecuting attorney or hire an attorney to fight on your behalf.

Judges may set a cash bond, require drug testing or interim alcohol testing, but they cannot treat your case any differently simply because you plead not guilty. If a student hires an attorney, many courts will automatically enter a not guilty plea and set the matter for a pretrial conference with the prosecutor. You will typically be asked to sign an advice of rights sheet, at least in Michigan courts.

The advice of rights form will indicate all the rights that a student has and the court will ask you whether or not you have read the form. I advise everyone who calls me to plead NOT GUILTY at their initial arraignment. The reason for this is that if you plead guilty you are giving up all of your rights to have your case reviewed by either an attorney or the opportunity to speak with the prosecuting attorney. Another important reason is that I have had the unpleasant experience of showing up in court for a simple MIP and the prosecutor has authorized additional charges against my client in the interim.

This leads me to an important note about the roles of the police and the prosecuting attorney’s office. You need to know that law enforcement officers will suggest charges for the prosecutors to authorize. They will execute a ticket or even a formal police report and submit them to the prosecuting attorney for review. Therefore, the prosecuting attorney can decide to authorize charges that are NOT on your written ticket. All the more reason to have your case handled by an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Case Study…

Our office was retained by a client who pled guilty to two misdemeanors at the initial arraignment! He pled guilty to a Minor in Possession and did not request the diversion program. He then pled guilty to a marijuana charge and did not ask for the first time offender’s program, Section 7411.

 

He then received a Minor in Possession second offense. Through negotiations, a substance abuse screening, as well as speaking with the presiding judge in the case, we were able to obtain a Homes Youthful Trainee Act or HYTA outcome on the more serious marijuana charge, which gave the client the opportunity to plead under HYTA, go on probation, and prove to the judge and the court that he could remain criminal record free for that time period.

 

After that time period expired his record would be dismissed and it would be non-public while he was on probation. Another example of how important it is to know your rights and plead not guilty at your initial arraignment!

-By Attorney William McNeil, Of Counsel for The Law Offices of Raymond Purdy

Look Sharp And No Flips

The arraignment is your first opportunity to appear before the judge that will most likely be handling your case. You should be dressed neat, clean and groomed appropriately. I tell all of my clients that flip flops and shorts are not appropriate. Don’t laugh! A women’s sports team recently visited the White House and many of them wore flip flops! You should be wearing slacks, a shirt and a tie if possible.

If you are a male, you should try to not wear earrings and have your hair and facial hair groomed appropriately for a court setting.
If you are a female, you do not have to wear a dress but you should be dressed appropriately with a blouse, pants or a skirt if you choose to do so.

You should address the judge as Your Honor and can respond to any questions by answering “Yes Sir”, or “Yes Ma’am” depending on the gender of the judge. Speak clearly and listen to all of the judge’s questions and take your time as you do not get a second chance at your answer.

Your parents, if they are in the courtroom with you, will not be able to appear with and you will have to go up by yourself when your name is called. You should make sure to appear early and check in if necessary with the court clerk.

Please plan ahead when making your travel plans to court. Check the directions, leave time for traffic jams and know the parking situation. Do not be late! Some courts have a sign in sheet that you need to sign and will ask you to review your advice of rights sheet, which, again, explains all of your rights. You should read them thoroughly and be prepared.

Be Prepared For Drug Or Alcohol Testing

Some courts will alcohol or drug test at the first arraignment and you need to be prepared to answer that question for the judge. Many judges will ask you whether or not you will test clean and that it stays within your system for 30 days.

You should be prepared to answer that question honestly, as a dishonest response could land you in jail for a contempt of court charge. If you tell the truth and admit that you will test dirty, I have seen judges set a drug test 30 days out to make sure that you are clean the next time you appear in court.

Turn Your Cell Phone Off!

Some courts will or will not allow cell phones in the court. You most likely will have to go through a metal detector to get into your court system, so be prepared for that and do not have any pocket knives or excessive change or anything else as you are going through the metal detectors.

Also, be sure to turn your cell phone off. Do not have them on vibrate. If the phone goes off you will disrespect the court and you will provide a bad first impression. You could have your phone confiscated and some judges will issue a contempt of court citation and put you in jail for the phone ringing in the courtroom.

Pleading Guilty Equals Giving Up Your Rights!

If you plead guilty at the initial arraignment, some courts will allow you to take advantage of the diversion program or the first offender’s program right then. Please see the page on MIP dismissals and MIP diversions for more information on this topic. However, many courts across the state will simply take your guilty plea and will not allow you to come back and change your plea unless you file a motion to withdraw it at a later time, which is a difficult and expensive proposition and is fully within the discretion of the judge to grant.

In most courts the judges will simply take the not guilty plea and set a pretrial conference, usually giving the student a hearing date at the initial arraignment. There are some courts that will do an arraignment/pretrial and have the meeting with the prosecutor at that time in order to try to dispose of the case. There are only a few courts that I know of in Michigan that will ask for a cash bond in order for you to remain free pending the pretrial in your case. Most courts will set a personal recognizance bond (P.R. bond) which simply means that you do not have to pay any money to the court to remain free pending your next hearing. You can read more about the bond process here.

Too many college students and young people believe that if they did drink, if they did fail a breathalyzer, if they did admit to drinking, that they must plead guilty! This is absolutely false. It is everyone’s constitutional right to plead not guilty regardless of whether or not you are actually guilty. It is the burden of the prosecutor to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt whether it is a murder case or a minor in possession charge carrying no jail time. In other states the court process will be very similar, but you should check with an attorney in that state for the exact specifics of how the courts handle the initial appearance, arraignment and bond.

Pretrial Conference Equals Time To Talk To A Prosecutor

This is an opportunity, if you are representing yourself, to speak with the prosecuting attorney. Some prosecuting attorneys will allow your parents to be with you while others will simply talk to you as the individual and adult charged with a misdemeanor. If you have an attorney, the attorney will prepare for the hearing and be the one who will speak with the prosecutor and try to negotiate a plea on your behalf. He or she may set the matter for a trial if necessary or adjourn the case if that can obtain an advantageous result.

If you do choose to represent yourself, do not be intimidated by this meeting. Prosecuting attorneys, for the most part, want to settle cases and will be open to discussing your case with you. Look sharp like you did for your arraignment and use this opportunity to present your case as to why you deserve either a dismissal or a diversion program. Have all of your resources with you, including your resume and your accomplishments to date. If you have participated in alcohol counseling or classes, be sure to bring proof with you to the pretrial conference.

Final Pretrial / Jury Trial

If you cannot come to a resolution with the prosecutors in a pretrial conference, you have the right to demand a jury trial or a non-jury trial. If you demand a jury trial it will typically be set for a final pretrial with the prosecuting attorney so that the courts can determine which cases are going to actually go on that day and which are going to be resolved the day before trial. There are some district courts however, at least in Michigan, that will simply set if for a jury trial and it is the attorney’s obligation or the individual’s obligation to come to a resolution with the prosecuting attorney’s office before that day.

The final pretrial is the last opportunity to resolve or to negotiate a plea in your matter. If you cannot resolve the case and you have chosen a jury trial, there will be a jury selection and you can have the actual jury trial the next day. There are some district courts that will set your matter for a jury selection day, which means that everyone hand picks their jury on a certain day and then they will set a jury trial date that is convenient with the court’s schedule. However, there is some danger in using this tactic in that any plea offers that were made at the initial pretrial conference do not necessarily have to be held open until the final pretrial. There are some jurisdictions where if you do not plead at the initial pretrial they can take any deal off the table and it will go to a jury trial. Be sure to ask the prosecutor whether or not any offers made at the first pretrial conference will be “held open” until trial.

If you choose to represent yourself, you need to be cautious and careful in dealing with the prosecutors, which is another reason why I discourage students from handling their pretrial conference cases by themselves if at all possible. You may say something at the pretrial that could damage the case. You could have a disagreement with the prosecutor. You could have a personality conflict which could potentially destroy any help that an attorney could provide at a later date. When I take a case in its later stages, I have run into situations where the prosecutors will remember my client, did not like their attitude and therefore there are no deals left on the table.

Remember that the same advice applies to an appearance at a pretrial conference with regard to dress and appearance as with appearing before a judge. While you may not be formally appearing in front of the judge at first, if a resolution is reached with the prosecutor at the pretrial conference you could appear before the judge for a possible plea and sentencing depending on whether or not the court requires alcohol screening. Therefore you should be dressed appropriately and prepared to appear before the judge at any hearing that is set by the court.

Jury Trial

An actual jury trial could take place if no resolution can be reached in your case. In Michigan, the right to a jury trial has been secured by defense attorneys taking cases all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court. You should check with an attorney in your jurisdiction regarding your right to demand a jury trial in your matter. Some jurisdictions will complete the jury selection first. Jury selection is where members of the community will fill out juror questionnaires and either you or your attorney will have the opportunity to review those questionnaires and can question the jury before they are picked. After jury selection, the jury trial will begin and the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were a minor in possession of alcohol.

Advice of Rights

Most students simply sign their Advice of Rights form without truly reading it. The rights contained in this form are important and you give up EVERY one of these rights if you plead guilty at your initial arraignment. Be sure to read your Advice of Rights form carefully before signing it and that you understand all of your rights. If you do not, you can always ask a clerk or even the judge for clarification.

Conclusion

Remember that you always have the right to plead NOT GUILTY in your case. This is a right that has been defended since our country was founded. You have the right to remain silent throughout the court process, and you also have the right to an attorney. If you have any questions about the court process in your particular state or jurisdiction, consult with an attorney who handles your type of case.

Call 1-616-502-1646 for a Free MIP Consultation