Michigan Criminal Law Questions & Answers

Q.    What is a misdemeanor?

A.    A misdemeanor is a crime for which the possible penalty is one year or less in jail.

Q.    What is a felony?

A.    A felony is a serious crime for which the possible penalty is more than one year in jail/prison.

Q.    Does a police officer have the right to stop/detain me without arresting me?

A.    A law enforcement officer may ask you to identify yourself, or question you briefly, without arresting you. If the officer has reason to believe that you are carrying a concealed weapon and that you may be dangerous to the officer or others, the officer may conduct a limited search for his/her safety. If this search reveals what feels like a weapon, the officer may search for and remove the object. The officer must return any lawful object found unless you are placed under arrest. The search is limited to objects that feel like weapons. You may have a constitutional right not to answer questions that an officer asks. Nonetheless, it is advisable to provide your name, address, and identification if so requested. At the conclusion of questioning and searching, the officer must either arrest you or release you.

Q.    May an officer use force to place someone under arrest?

A.    An officer may use reasonable force necessary to arrest you and to keep you under arrest. Never resist the officer, and never interfere with an officer if someone else is being arrested. If you believe that your rights are being violated, remember exactly what the police officer does, and tell your attorney about it at the earliest opportunity.

Q.    When does an officer have the right to search me?

A.    When you are lawfully arrested, the officer has the right to search you. The immediate area of the place of the arrest also may be searched. Law enforcement officials do not have the right to conduct a general search of the surrounding area without a search warrant. If you were arrested while in a vehicle, the vehicle and containers may be searched without a warrant. A more thorough search may be made without a search warrant if the police have reasonable grounds to believe that the vehicle contains articles that they are entitled to seize. The vehicle may be impounded, and an inventory of its contents made. Additionally, a search may be made at any time if you consent. If you are asked to sign a consent form, read it carefully to be sure that you understand what you are permitting. You do not have to give, or sign a, “consent.”

Q.    May I refuse to be fingerprinted?

A.    If you are arrested, the police have the right to take your fingerprints and photograph. You also may be required to participate in a line-up, to provide a sample of your handwriting, to speak phrases associated with the offense, or have samples of your hair taken. You may insist that an attorney be present.

Q.    Will my record always show an arrest?

A.    If you are found not guilty of a charge for which you are arrested, or the charge is dismissed, then you may petition to have all records of the arrest and prosecution formally erased.