- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A Michigan court rule being implemented this year that adds another hearing for defendants is designed to help unclog busy dockets, officials said.

The probable cause hearing, also called a probable cause conference, was added to court procedures by the Michigan Supreme Court between a defendant’s arraignment and preliminary examination, The Detroit News reported (https://bit.ly/1FyLru0 ).

The probable cause hearing seeks to streamline the court process and save money for prosecutors’ offices and police departments. At the hearing, future court dates can be set, lawyers can work on a plea bargain and defendants may waive a preliminary examination.

The hearing is scheduled three to seven days after an arraignment, which is an initial appearance in court where a defendant is formally charged, and ahead of the preliminary examination, where a judge hears testimony and determines if the case goes to trial.

Probable cause conferences are used in courts in other states for case management and administrative functions, said Bill Raferty of the National Center for State Courts. For defense attorneys, another court hearing could assist in their work.

“As a defense attorney, any chance to get in front of a judge is always helpful,” said David Cripps, who has worked with many high-profile defendants. “It also can eliminate a step of a victim having to go to court.”

The Michigan Association for Justice, formerly the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association, has expressed concern that the change will dilute the legal process.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said while there are “huge bugs” to be worked out, the new rules help move the county’s justice system move along faster. Depending on the case, it can be wrapped up early on in the court process, Worthy said.

“It sounds like an extra layer, but it’s actually more efficient,” she said.

Judge Thomas Boyd of 55th District Court, who served on a panel of judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys that came up with the new rules, said the panel sought a system that streamlined the court process while maintaining justice.

“The system needs to be efficient but it needs to be just,” Boyd said. “There needs to be maximum efficiency without detracting from defendants’ rights.”

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Information from: The Detroit News, https://detnews.com/

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