The terms and definitions on this page are relevant to criminal cases in the State of Michigan, United States of America, unless noted otherwise. Criminal laws and procedures in other states and countries may be very different.

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If the word you're looking for does not appear on this list, check one of the following websites: Law.com or Nolo’s Law Dictionary.


The legal system can be filled with confusing phrases and terms. This list should help you to understand that system a little better.

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Family Court

  • Beginning January 1, 1998, Michigan Circuit Courts operate a "Family Court" division (in addition to Civil and Criminal divisions). The Family Division will handle divorce, child custody, parenting time, paternity, adoption, child & spousal support, domestic violence (PPO's), juvenile delinquency, neglect and abuse, as well as emancipation of minors, parental consent waivers (abortion), and name changes. The family court will also have ancillary jurisdiction over cases involving guardians and conservators, and mentally ill or developmentally disabled persons (typically when the affected person's family is already subject to the jurisdiction of the family division).
  • There will be one judge for one family. To the extent possible, all new cases involving a family will be automatically assigned to the judge hearing a previous case involving that family. Judges from both Probate and Circuit courts will staff the Family Division. If two or more pending matters within the Family Court's jurisdiction involve the same family, they will be assigned to the same judge whenever practical.
  • Within certain broad guidelines, each circuit will decide how its Family Court will operate. There is no mandated number percentage of the total Circuit and Probate bench that must be assigned to the Family Division; the number of judges assigned "shall reasonably reflect the caseload of that Family Division."


  • A crime carrying more than one year possible incarceration.

Felony Firearm [MCL 750.227b]

  • A crime committed when carrying or having in his possession a firearm at the time a felony is committed or attempted to be committed.
  • Penalty: Felony - mandatory 2 years (or 5 years for second offense) imprisonment consecutive to served before the term of imprisonment imposed for the felony or attempted felony conviction

Friend of the Court

  • The Friend of the Court is a division of the Circuit Court; there is at least one office for each County.
  • The Friend of the Court is not a division of the Prosecuting Attorney's office.
  • The Friend of the Court Act (1982 PA 294) makes the office responsible for: investigating, reporting and making recommendations to the Circuit Court on custody, parenting time ("visitation") and the amount of child support providing mediation sessions to resolve child custody and parenting time disagreements collecting, recording and sending out all support payments ordered by the Court initiating enforcement of all custody, support and parenting time ("visitation") orders entered by the Court.


  • Real or personal property to which a person loses his right of possession due to the commission of a crime or by way of an assessed penalty. A forfeiture may be either administrative or judicial.

Formal Hearing

  • A hearing in which a civil infraction is contested before a District Judge (similar to a bench trial). The defendant may be represented by an attorney. The People are represented by the Prosecuting Attorney or an attorney for the local municipality. 
  • [See also Informal Hearing.]


  • Michigan Rule of Evidence 404(b):
    • Rule 404. Character Evidence Not Admissible to Prove Conduct; Exceptions; Other Crimes
    • (a) Character Evidence Generally....
    • (b) Other Crimes, Wrongs, or Acts.
  • Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, scheme, plan, or system in doing an act, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident when the same is material, whether such other crimes, wrongs, or acts are contemporaneous with, or prior or subsequent to the conduct at issue in the case.
  • The prosecution in a criminal case shall provide reasonable notice in advance of trial... of the general nature of any such evidence it intends to introduce at trial and the rationale, whether or not mentioned in subparagraph (b)(1), for admitting the evidence. If necessary for a determination of the admissibility of the evidence under this rule, the defendant shall be required to state the theory or theories of defense, limited only by the defendant's privilege against self-incrimination.
  • Permits some "prior bad acts" evidence to be admitted at trial.