A probable cause conference is held in felony cases following arraignment before a preliminary examination hearing is scheduled. The probable cause conference is designed to expediate matters, accept an early plea or resolution to the case, and to preserve victim testimony at the earliest possible stage. The probable cause conference is akin to an informal pretrial conference between the prosecution and defense before a preliminary examination becomes necessary.
A probable cause conference may be held before the district court magistrate or a district court judge. The district court magistrate may conduct probable cause conferences only when authorized to by the chief district judge. A district court magistrate may not accept a felony plea. The probable cause conference involves discussions regarding a possible plea agreement and other pretrial matters, including reducations to bail and bond. A district court judge must be available during the probable cause conference to take felony pleas and consider requests for modifications of bond. If a felony plea is taken by the district court judge, the matter is sent to the circuit court judge for sentencing. (The circuit court judge must be known and identified before a felony plea may be accepted.) The probable cause conference for codefendants who are arraigned at least 72 hours before the probable cause conference must be consolidated.
If the matter is not resolved at the probable cause conference, the case continues to proceed in the district court, and a preliminary examination must be held not less than 5 or more than 7 days following the probable cause conference. IMPORTANT: Although the preliminary examination will not take place on the date of the probable cause conference, the prosecutor may unilaterially demand that the preliminary examination start on the date of the probable cause conference for purposes of preserving the testimony of any victims to the crime. This means that a portion of the preliminary examination could take place on the date that the probable cause conference is held.
MCR 6.108 states:
Rule 6.108 The Probable Cause Conference
(A) Right to a probable Cause Conference. The state and the defendant are entitled to a probable cause conference, unless waived by both parties. If the probable cause conference is waived, the parties shall provide written notice to the court and indicate whether the parties will be conducting a preliminary examination, waiving the examination, or entering a plea.
(B) A district court magistrate may conduct probable cause conferences when authorized to do so by the chief district judge and may conduct all matters allowed at the probable cause conference, except taking pleas and imposing sentences unless permitted by statute to take pleas or impose sentences.
(C) The probable cause conference shall include discussions regarding a possible plea agreement and other pretrial matters, including bail and bond modification.
(D) The district court judge must be available during the probable cause conference to take pleas, consider requests for modification of bond, and if requested by the prosecutor, take the testimony of a victim.
(E) The probable cause conference for codefendants who are arraigned at least 72 hours before the probable cause conference shall be consolidated and only one joint probable cause conference shall be held unless the prosecuting attorney consents to the severance, a defendant seeks severance by motion and it is granted, or one of the defendants is unavailable and does not appear at the hearing.