In the Beginning
Our first involvement with a criminal case usually occurs at the time of arraignment. At arraignment the accused person is brought before a judge or magistrate and told what crime they have been charged with and the maximum penalty for the offense. The judge also sets bond and advises the accused of the right to have an attorney. Here's the rule: If the accused cannot afford an attorney and if the accused is going to be locked up if he or she is found guilty, then the judge will appoint the Public Defenders to assist him or her..
The rule is similar in family court cases. In family court cases where a person is indigent and where the government threatens to lock him or her up or take away his or her children, then the judge will appoint the Public Defenders at or before the first hearing on his or her case. In neglect and/or abuse cases, the judge may appoint public defenders for everybody: Mother, father and children.
This is where we come in. We are the Muskegon County Public Defenders. We are appointed by the Courts to represent people accused of crimes or like in family court, where the government threatens a significant liberty interest (removing a child).
In criminal cases, beginning in the fall of 2018, all persons who are in jail will be visited by an attorney from this office before he or she is arraigned. Beginning in the summer of 2018, all persons who are not in jail will be contacted by a lawyer or legal intern immediately after they have been arraigned.
When a person is held in a jail or detention center, the judge will set bond so that he or she can be released with a cash or property security. The legal purpose of a bond is to insure that the person does not flee the County and to protect others should the person be prone to act out. For most persons who are being held, the first chance to discus bond with the judge is the arraignment. The person usually does not get another chance until the next hearing whether it be a pretrial, preliminary examination or motion hearing.
There may be no requirement for a cash bond, but the court often sets a cash bond and any other conditions deemed appropriate. Failure to appear usually results in the loss of the bond (and the money paid for it) and an arrest warrant.
There are many considerations that go into setting a bond. The judge will ask whether the client turned him or herself in or if he or she had to be arrested. Another issue is the seriousness of the crime. Seriousness is usually a factor of whether or not a person was injured during the commission of the alleged crime. Also, the Courts will place higher bonds on people who may get into more trouble if released or if they have failed to live up to their bond conditions in the past.
When a person is charged with a misdemeanor - an offense with a maximum penalty of one year or less of jail time - and he or she qualifies for a public defender, the Court notifies us. Most of the time our client is not in jail in misdemeanor cases so we rely on them (the clients) to contact us and set up an appointment to see us. Beginning in the fall of 2018 those clients who are in jail can look forward to a visit from his or her public defender within 72 hours of our being appointed.
When a person is charged with a felony - an offense with a minimum penalty of at least two years in prison - and he or she qualifies for a public defender, the Court notifies us. Most of the time our client is in jail on felony cases but those who are not should contact us and set up an appointment to see us. Beginning in the fall of 2018 those clients who are in jail can look forward to a visit from his or her public defender within 72 hours of being appointed.
Sometimes juveniles accused of delinquency matters are held in the Juvenile Transition Center (JTC) from the beginning of the case. More typically though, they are sent home and later they are notified by mail telling them when they and a parent must appear at the Family Court. Juveniles may be detained on a "pick up order" which is the equivalent of an arrest warrant. Bond, if necessary will be set by the judge or magistrate.
Probation Violations, Standby Counsel, Specialty Courts, Extradition, etc.
The Public Defender office can be appointed at any point during court proceedings. We may also be appointed as standby legal counsel for defendants who choose to represent themselves. In addition, we are appointed to represent the vast majority of defendants charged with violation of probation cases, set for extradition hearings, facing line-ups and so forth.