Everything You Want to Know About the Courts in Michigan

Michigan Hall of Justice - depicting Michigan courts

Every state has numerous courts. It can be bewildering when you encounter the court system for the first time.

To everyone who works in the court system, the information is old news; they give the same directions all the time. However, if you are worried about your charges, and you also don’t know the difference between the courts involved in your case, it’s going to add a new level of anxiety.

In this article, you will see a quick overview of all the courts in Michigan, and then a highlight of the three courts that count for most criminal cases. This guide will help you get an idea of how the system works.

Federal Courts in Michigan

Federal District Court

There are two Federal District Courts in Michigan. Federal courts hear all federal court cases from either the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan or Western District of Michigan.

The state is divided roughly in half by county, with the Upper Peninsula belonging to the Western District. There are five Federal District Courthouses that serve this district – the Eastern District. They are in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Bay City, Flint, and Port Huron.

Bankruptcy Courts  

The State of Michigan has two federal bankruptcy courts.

Michigan State Courts

Michigan’s state courts, looking at the system from the top down, are:

  • Michigan Supreme Court
  • Court of Appeals
  • Circuit Court
  • Court of Claims
  • District Court
  • Probate Court
  • Municipal Court

Unless you are being tried for a federal crime, the only courts you need to be concerned with are the circuit court, the district court, and the probate court.

District Court

Adult criminal cases start in the district court. District court is located in the city in which the offense was committed. If you are being tried for a misdemeanor, your case will begin and end in the district court.

Arraignment, pre-trial hearings, and the trial (if there is one) will be heard here.

If you are being tried for a felony, your arraignment will still happen at the district court. District courts can also schedule the preliminary exam. However, then your case will head over to the circuit court.

A district court judge has the authority to sentence a person up to one year in county jail, and that’s it. Furthermore, a district court judge can’t sentence anyone to state prison.

Probate Court

If you are under the age of 17, your case will be heard in juvenile court, unless you are being tried as an adult.

The vast majority of juvenile cases are tried in juvenile court, which is a division of the county probate court. Sentencing decisions from probate court judges can range from incarceration in a county youth home, the state maximum-security juvenile detention facility, or probation.

Circuit Court

As an adult, or if you are a child being tried as an adult with felony charges, your case will proceed to the circuit court.

Circuit courts are one per county. Macomb County has one in Mt. Clemens, Oakland County’s is in Pontiac, and Wayne County’s Circuit Court is in Detroit.

All felony cases are turned over to the county circuit court for the county in which your alleged crime was committed. Circuit court judges do have the power to send someone to state prison.

The maximum allowable sentence in this state is a life sentence in state prison.

Post-Conviction Appeals

The other state courts in the system – the court of appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court – are the courts who hear any post-conviction motions. Federal courts in Michigan may also hear appeals from state courts.


The best way to make it through your experience with the Michigan court system is by hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you navigate your criminal charges.

If you are facing criminal charges, please call my office today for your free consultation.

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