Interviewer: How does the process of the appeals work?
An Appeal Challenges the Outcome of a Case
Paul Tafelski: Almost any type of case you have—a traffic ticket, a landlord-tenant case, a drunk driving case, a criminal misdemeanor, a felony, a drug case—if you fight your case at the beginning level and you are unhappy with the outcome you have the opportunity to appeal your case to the next highest level.
An Appeal Is Argued to the Next Highest Court Level, up to the Supreme Court
If you are starting off at the district court with a traffic ticket and you’re unhappy with the result, if you are willing to spend the time and money to appeal it, you can go to the circuit court and then appeal. If you are unhappy there you can go to the court of appeal. If you are unhappy there you can go to the Supreme Court.
The same thing goes with other types of cases whether they are criminal or civil. As long as you have fought your case, you have a right to appeal it to the next level. If you made some kind of deal or plea bargain on your case, then in certain circumstances the higher court has to agree to hear your case.
In other words there needs to be some type of issue that they are interested in and willing to then take a look at your case. You don’t automatically have a right to have an appeal unless you fought your case to the end.
Small Claims Courts Handle Primarily Civil Cases That Have a Value of $3,500 or Less
Interviewer: What are small claims courts?
Paul Tafelski: Small claims courts really just deals with civil type cases but they have a limit on their value. This means the cases are value of, I believe the limit is $3,500 or less. Those cases can be filed without an attorney and they are more informal and they can be quicker to resolve but they involve less money. That’s the only step that goes through small claims. But small claims court is really just a division of the district court or a municipal court and not a separate court.
County Courts Are Also Known as Circuit Courts and Handle Larger Criminal and Civil Cases
Interviewer: I wanted to into the county court and what differentiates that from district court?
Paul Tafelski: The county courts are also known as the circuit courts and the circuit courts they handle the more serious cases. When hearing civil cases, they could be the cases that are worth more money such as auto injury cases, dog bite cases, medical malpractice or large commercial litigation cases involving businesses. They also handle all divorce and family law cases.
They handle all felony cases in the circuit courts so you could see murder, felony drunk driving, drug possession, drug distribution, and drug deliveries cases. All those types of more serious cases end up in the circuit courts.
District Courts Handle Issues Local to the Area
The district courts handle similar cases but just usually those of lower monetary value or less maximum jail time in the criminal context.
District courts deal with more local issues meaning things that happen in that city or around that district court, whereas the county handles things that happen anywhere in the entire county.
District Courts Hear Ordnance Violations, Misdemeanors and the Initial Hearing for Felony Cases
Interviewer: Let’s talk about the different kind of crimes or kind of cases a district court can be handling.
Paul Tafelski: In district courts, from a criminal defense standpoint or the criminal law standpoint they handle anything that is ordnance violation or misdemeanor. Also, all felonies start in the district court where the crime was committed and then after the preliminary examination, they get bound over to the circuit courts unless they get dismissed or reduced to misdemeanor.
For example, if you had a murder that occurred in the city of Troy, the Troy District court would first handle the arraignment of the person charged with murder and then they would handle the preliminary examination to determine whether there was probable cause to bind that person over or not probable cause.
Felony Cases Are Next Transferred to Circuit Court
If there is probable cause the case gets what we call bound over to the circuit court where then it will stay at the Oakland county circuit court until it’s finished. If the case is not bound over then it’s dismissed and doesn’t go any further. The same thing goes with any type of felony whether it is possession of cocaine in the city of Troy, a third offense drunk driving, felony drunk driving in the city of Troy, or criminal sexual conduct. If it happened in the city of Troy it will start in the Troy District court which is the 52-4 district court and then it will eventually end up in the Oakland county circuit court.
District Court Hears First and Second Offense DUI and Domestic Violence Cases
The same thing goes with other district courts. If the crime is committed in their district then it starts their and eventually goes to the circuit court. Typically the kind of cases that stay in the district court will be drunk-driving cases. So, a first offense drunk driving or second offense drunk driving case will start and finish in the district court.
Domestic violence cases, first or second offense, will stay in district court. Disorderly conduct, possession of marijuana, assault and battery, generally fighting-type crimes, aggravated assault, drug paraphernalia, minor in possession of alcohol, open intoxicants, reckless driving, leaving the scene of a property damage accident, filing a false police report, providing false identification, driving while license is suspended, first offense or second offense. Those cases are all the kind of mainstay bread and butter cases of district courts.
Obviously drunk driving is probably the most serious type of case in a district court.
Retail Fraud Cases Are Heard in District Court
Interviewer: Are theft charges heard in district court?
Paul Tafelski: Yes, retail fraud is a big crime in a lot of district courts especially in places where here are malls such as Troy, Novi, Livonia, and Dearborn. Any place where there are a lot of retail outlets you see a number of retail fraud charges, both a first offense and the second offense, which are actually called retail fraud third degree and retail fraud second degree. They are handled in the district courts.
Retail Fraud First Degree Begins in District Court then Proceeds to Circuit Court
If you have a retail fraud first degree that’s actually a felony and it would start in the district court and then proceed on to the circuit courts after the preliminary examination.
Certain Weapons Charges Are Heard in District Court
Interviewer: What about weapons charges? Are they going to be handled by the district court as well?
Paul Tafelski: Some weapons charges can end up in the district court. For example, if somebody has a concealed pistol permit or concealed weapon permit and they get arrested for a drug driving charge when they have the weapon on them—that is a misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed weapon while intoxicated.
There are certain weapons charges that can be misdemeanors but mostly the other type of weapons charges end up being felonies. They would start in the district court and then move on to circuit court.
Drug Possession or Distribution Charges of a Controlled Substance Are Typically Felony Charges
Interviewer: When you mentioned that drug charges earlier, what about possession verses distribution charges? Will they be heard in district court?
Paul Tafelski: For example, possession or distribution or delivery of any type of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, Xanax, or Adderall, which are basically controlled substances, those are all going to be felonies. Possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor but possession of marijuana with intent to deliver is a felony. That’s the difference. The only possession charge that is really a misdemeanor is marijuana.
Interviewer: You also mentioned that domestic violence charges or assault cases will be heard in district court?
Assault Charges Involving a Weapon Will Be Charged as a Felony
Paul Tafelski: Domestic violence and assault and battery are both misdemeanor charges if they are first offenses and a domestic violence second offense is also misdemeanor. Those will stay in the district court. However, with assault, if there is a weapon involved, such as a stick, a gun, a knife, that becomes a felonious assault which is a felony and will end up in the circuit court.