I Have Been Arrested or Charged with a Crime

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When someone is arrested or charged with a crime, they have rights. To learn more about the timeline and processes of a criminal case, read An Overview of a Criminal Case.

Your Rights Before and After Arrest

In general, police need a search warrant to enter any private building or area, or to search electronic materials like your phone or computer. If police do not have a search warrant, you do not have to allow them to enter your home, garage, car, or any other private place not open to the public. If police do have a warrant, you should allow them to search whatever is listed in the warrant. The search is usually limited to the terms of the warrant. To learn more, read the “Search Warrants” section of An Overview of a Criminal Case. If police witness a crime, they do not need a warrant to conduct a search.

If the police do not have a search warrant they might ask you for permission to search. You are not required to give permission.

While the police are conducting their search, you can ask if you can watch them as they complete it. You can also ask if you can call a lawyer before they begin. Police should give you a list of everything that they take as evidence when they complete their search. They should also leave a copy of the warrant or other document that allowed the search.

Different rules apply to searches during a traffic stop. With traffic stops, police might be able to search a car without a warrant if they have probable cause that they will find evidence of a crime.

If you have questions about whether police need a warrant to search something, you should speak with a lawyer. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers in your area.

Miranda Rights

If the police arrest you, they must tell or “read” you your “Miranda rights.” The most common version of Miranda rights is: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” You could hear a different version, but it should include the same rights.

The police or prosecutors cannot force you to answer questions after you are arrested. Your right to remain silent is guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

You have the right to have a lawyer present when you are talking to the police or prosecutor. This includes any oral or written statements you make. Your right to a lawyer is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Michigan law guarantees that anyone suspected of committing a crime who wants a lawyer can get one, regardless of their ability to pay. You must clearly and specifically ask for a lawyer to have one present during police questioning.

Your Rights if You Are Charged with a Crime

If you are charged with a crime, your right to a lawyer continues throughout the process. You find out what crime(s) you are charged with at an arraignment. At this point you become the defendant in the case.

When you are arraigned, you have the right to plead “not guilty,” or stand mute (not say anything) and the court will enter a not guilty plea for you.  All defendants are presumed innocent until found guilty. That means the prosecutor must present evidence that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed a crime. This will include calling witnesses to testify. In general, you have the right to cross-examine any witness the prosecutor calls, or have your lawyer cross-examine them. This right is taken away if a defendant does something to intimidate a witness.

You also have the right to present your own evidence and call your own witnesses to help your case. Both you and the prosecutor can subpoena witnesses if necessary.

You have the right to a speedy and public trial. “Speedy” means that there are not unreasonable delays. Criminal trials can take weeks, sometimes months to complete.

In criminal cases, a jury’s verdict must be unanimous. This means all jurors must agree. If the jury can’t agree, this is called a “hung jury.” If you are facing more than one charge in a case, the jury verdicts can be different for each charge. When there is a hung jury, the prosecutor can either decide to retry the case or drop the charges.  

To learn more about juries and jury selection in criminal trials, read the “Jury Selection” section in An Overview of a Criminal Case.

Your Right to Destruction of Arrest Records if You Are Acquitted

If the jury or judge finds you are not guilty, it is called an “acquittal.” If you are acquitted, nothing about the case should be on your criminal record. If you have been acquitted but the arrest and charges still show up on your criminal record, read Fixing Mistakes on Your Criminal Record.

Your Right to Appeal Your Case

You have the right to appeal your case. An appeal from district court is heard by a circuit court judge. An appeal from circuit court is heard by the Michigan Court of Appeals. An appeal from there is heard by the Michigan Supreme Court. There is not a right to appeal at every level in every case. There are times when the court can choose whether to hear a case.

To learn more, read the “Appeals in a Criminal Case” section of An Overview of a Criminal Case.

All appeals are complicated. If you are interested in appealing a decision, you may want to talk to an experienced criminal law lawyer. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers in your area.