How Long Does the State Have to File Charges Against You?

Taking fingerprints of person charged with a crime.

The criminal process can be confusing, especially if you have never been charged with a crime before. While every situation is unique, most criminal cases follow a similar process that leads from investigation to charges being filed and, ultimately, your appearance in court.

Here, I hope to take some of the mystery out of the criminal process and explain what to expect if you are under investigation for a crime in Michigan. This outline provides a general guide, but every case is different. If you believe you are under investigation, it is never too early to contact Elmen Legal to begin preparing your legal defense.


A criminal case usually begins with an investigation. Someone reports a crime, then local police, the county Sherriff, or state law enforcement are contacted to investigate. A criminal investigation usually involves interviewing witnesses, evaluating the crime scene, taking photographs, gathering physical evidence, conducting searches, and identifying and questioning suspects.

If you are a suspect in a crime, also known as a “person of interest,” it is crucial that you understand your rights. You have the right to remain silent, the right to be free from unreasonable searches, and the right to an attorney. If the police ask to conduct a search of your person or property, you are not required to consent unless they have a valid warrant. You also have the right to have an attorney present when you are being questioned.


Once the police believe they have enough evidence to file a criminal case, they will place you under arrest. In some cases, when the police respond to a call, they quickly decide that they have enough evidence and will arrest you on the spot. This is most common when the police respond to an incident that just happened, such as when they are called to break up a fight.

Other times, the arrest will not come until after the police have conducted an investigation. In these situations, the police will usually go to court first to request a search warrant and then an arrest warrant.

Remember that an arrest is not the same as being charged with a crime. Even though many arrests lead to criminal charges, the prosecutor ultimately decides whether there is enough evidence to file criminal charges and what specific crime you might be charged with.

Initial Appearance

Once you have been charged with a crime, the court process will be slightly different if your criminal case is a misdemeanor or a felony.

Felony Arraignment and Preliminary Examination

If you were charged with a felony, you will appear in the Circuit Court, where the judge reads the charges against you and advises you of your rights. The case will then move to a Pre-Exam Conference, where your lawyer will meet with the prosecutor to determine whether your case can be resolved without additional proceedings.

If your case is not resolved at the Pre-Exam Conference, it will move to a Felony Preliminary Examination, where the judge will hold a probable cause hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to believe you committed a crime. This preliminary hearing is a critical first step because it allows your attorney to cross-examine key witnesses and challenge the evidence against you.

If the judge finds there was probable cause to believe you committed a felony, your case will be scheduled for an arraignment where you will enter a plea of Guilty, Not Guilty, or No Contest.

Misdemeanor Arraignment

If you were charged with a misdemeanor, you will enter a plea of Guilty, Not Guilty, or No Contest at the arraignment. If you enter a plea of Guilty or No Contest, the case will be scheduled for sentencing. If you wish to challenge the evidence against you, the case will move to a pre-trial.


At t the pre-trial in a felony or misdemeanor case, the prosecutor will meet with your defense attorney to discuss your case and determine whether it can be resolved without going to trial. Even if your criminal case is not fully resolved, the parties may be able to address questions such as the validity of certain pieces of evidence and whether they should be excluded because it was obtained improperly.


If your case is not resolved at the pre-trial stage, it will be scheduled for trial. At trial, the prosecutor will try to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you committed the crime you were accused of. Everyone has the right to a trial by jury. However, for strategic reasons, a defendant might waive their right to a jury trial and instead have the case heard by the judge alone. I can evaluate your case to help you decide whether to proceed with a jury trial or request a bench trial.


If you are convicted or plead guilty, your case will be scheduled for sentencing. Sentencing usually occurs on a different day than your trial or guilty plea. Before sentencing, the judge will receive and review a pre-sentencing report (PSR) from the probation department. The PSR will include a recommended sentence that might include community service, a fine, probation, or jail time. You might also be ordered to pay restitution to anyone who suffered financial harm because of the crime.


If you believe the judge made a mistake in your case, you can file an appeal. The appeals court will then decide whether there were reversible errors that affected the outcome of your case.

Statute of Limitations

The legislature has specified time limits within which the government must complete its investigation and file criminal charges. If they wait too long, you can seek to have your case dismissed based on the statute of limitations.

In Michigan, the statute of limitations is six years for most misdemeanors and ten years for most felonies. Violent crimes like murder, terrorist activities, and first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) do not have a statute of limitations.

Contact Elmen Legal for Aggressive Criminal Defense

If you are under investigation or have been charged with a crime in Michigan, you need experienced and aggressive legal representation. Elmen Legal proudly defends people who have been accused of crimes in and around Ann Arbor and throughout Michigan. I invite you to learn more about me and the cases I handle and to call (734) 707-8915 or contact Elmen Legal today to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case and how I can help.