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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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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  • The Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan. PAAM is a voluntary association of Michigan's 83 elected prosecutors and their staffs, comprising over 700 prosecutors throughout Michigan. PAAM's mission is to provide services to the state's prosecuting attorneys in order to make local law enforcement of state laws more uniform and efficient statewide. PAAM works with the legislature to enact, revise and improve criminal laws and criminal procedure --- including such issues as truth-in-sentencing, juvenile justice, domestic violence, child protection, and victim's rights.

Parenting Time

  • Formerly called "visitation". The time a child spends with a non-custodial parent.


  • The conditional release from prison of a convict before the expiration of a felony sentence. The parolee (the released person) need not serve the remainder of his sentence, unless he violates terms of his release. The parolee is under the supervision of a state parole officer during the parole period.


  • Establishing legal "fatherhood".


  • Knowingly making a material false statement while under oath to tell the truth.

Personal Protection Order [MCL 600.2950 - MCL 600.2950]

  • An injunctive order to prevent reoccurrence of acts or threats of assault and harassment.


  • In juvenile delinquency or child protective proceedings before the Family Division of Circuit Court, a petition is the document in which the charged offenses or allegations are set forth. The petition includes the Delinquency Proceedings - JC04a01 and Child Protective Proceedings - JC04b forms, plus additional text pages of allegations (if needed).


  • The person signing or filing a petition.


  • The person who originally filed a court action.


  • The defendant's response to a criminal charge (guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere).

Plea Agreement / Bargain

  • An agreement between the Prosecutor and the defendant for the defendant to plead guilty or no-contest under certain terms and conditions. The agreement could include the defendant pleading to all pending charges with a sentence agreement, or pleading to less than all of his pending charges, or pleading to a less serious charge, or pleading guilty to one or more pending charges in exchange for dismissal of other unrelated charges. All plea agreements must be approved by the judge. Plea agreements are a means of arriving at a reasonable disposition without the necessity of a trial.

Polling the Jury

  • Asking jurors individually, after their verdict has been announced, whether they agree with verdict.


  • See Personal Protection Order.


  • A court decision in an earlier case with facts and law similar to a dispute currently before a court. Precedent will ordinarily govern the decision of a later similar case, unless a party can show that it was wrongly decided or that it differed in some significant way.


  • Reversible error. Error committed during a trial serious enough to require an appellate court to reverse the judgment.

Preliminary Examination

  • A District Court evidentiary hearing for felonies where the Prosecutor must present evidence amounting to at least probable cause that the charged felony crime(s) in fact occurred and that the defendant committed it (them). Generally, the Prosecutor presents just a fraction of his total evidence and witnesses. The defendant (or his attorney) can cross-examine the People's witnesses, and present his own proofs to refute the People's evidence. If the Prosecutor meets his burden of proof, the case is "bound over" to Circuit Court for arraignment on an information, and possible trial.

Preliminary Hearing

  • The first stage in a juvenile delinquency or child protective proceeding when the child is in custody. An informal proceeding in the Family Division of Circuit Court in which the juvenile &/or parents and attorney are informed about the allegations in the petition. Testimony by the petitioner may be required to determine if the juvenile should not be placed with his parents pending further action on the petition.

Preliminary Inquiry

  • The first stage in a juvenile delinquency or child protective proceeding when the child is not in custody. An informal proceeding in the Family Division of Circuit Court in which the juvenile &/or parents and attorney are informed about the allegations in the petition.

Pre-Trial Conference

  • A scheduled meeting between the Prosecutor and defendant (or defendant's attorney), generally weeks before the trial date, to discuss plea bargains, trial issues, etc. The judge does not actively participate in misdemeanor pretrial conferences in district court, unless the meeting results in a plea. A circuit court judge may participate in a felony pretrial conference.

Prima Facie

Evidence that are sufficient to prove a fact, or facts sufficient to establish a party's right to legal relief, if no evidence to the contrary if offered.

Prior Bad Act

  • See MRE 404(b).

Probable Cause

  • Facts and circumstance sufficient to convince a person of reasonable caution that an offense has been committed; mere suspicion or belief, unsupported by facts or circumstances, is insufficient. A search warrant may be authorized, or a warrant-less arrest may be made, upon probable cause.

Probate Court

  • Has primary jurisdiction for cases involving wills, guardians and conservators, and mentally ill or developmentally disabled persons. After January 1, 1998, Probate Court judges may also be assigned to handle other cases assigned to the Family Division of Circuit Court, such as juvenile delinquency offenses, parental abuse/neglect actions, termination of parental rights, adoptions and name changes.
  • There are 79 probate courts in Michigan; probate judges are elected for 6-year terms.


  • A discretionary sentencing option for most misdemeanor and felony convictions where the defendant avoids some/all incarceration, and is released back into the community under the supervision of a probation officer for a specific time period, with many rules to follow. Some rules are standard (i.e., to not violate any more laws), while others are specific to the defendant or crime (i.e., alcohol counseling when convicted of OUIL). If the defendant violates any term of probation, the assigned probation officer (or the Prosecutor) can ask the sentencing judge to impose additional penalties.

Probation Order

  • An official written directive from the court ordering that a defendant in a criminal case is sentenced to a term of probation. This document is signed by both the judge and the defendant, and includes all legal conditions (both standard condition and special conditions) with which the defendant must comply during probation, fines, costs, restitution, etc.

Pro Bono

  • Legal services provided to a client free of charge.

Pro Per / Pro SE

  • A person who represents himself/herself in court without an attorney. The term comes from the Latin phrase in propria persona.

Prosecuting Attorney

  • The term Michigan uses for a Prosecutor.


  • An elected or appointed official vested with authority by a constitution, statute or ordinance to represent the public interest and take legal action against persons violating state or local criminal laws. Michigan's prosecutors are known as "Prosecuting Attorneys". In other states they are called District Attorneys, State's Attorneys, County Attorneys, Commonwealth's Attorneys, or other titles.