How do I qualify for a Public Defender?

Contact our office at (517) 540-8745, to see if you financially qualify for a public defender.

If someone is incarcerated and our Office is notified by the court, we will contact the Livingston County Jail and qualify that person over the phone.

Once you are qualified, you will be assigned a public defender based on the charge and which Judge the case is assigned to. The attorney that handled the arraignment in the case will not be assigned to handle your case moving forward.

What is a Public Defender and what does the office do?

​A Public Defender represents criminal defendants who need an attorney and cannot afford to hire one.

In Livingston County, the Office of the Public Defender is fully staffed and is a full-time office handling indigent criminal defense. The attorneys in the Office of the Public Defender are employed by Livingston County, however, work exclusively for the client.

We do not appear at personal protection orders, show causes, civil infractions, Friend of the Court hearings, landlord tenant hearings divorces, or payable misdemeanor tickets that are not subject to jail time.

I have been ordered to test randomly for drugs and alcohol, what does this mean?

​You must contact DNA testing facility and sign up based on what the court ordered.

If you are out of county, you may test at a local agency, however it is your responsibility to provide proof to the court and/or DNA that you are testing on a random basis.

D’n’A Drug & Alcohol Testing Centers
736 S. Michigan Ave.
Howell, MI  48843
Office:  517.618.7828
Fax:  517.552.1237

What are my rights in a criminal case?

Criminal defendants have the right

  • To a trial by jury
  • To be presumed innocent until proven guilty
  • To have the prosecutor prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they are guilty
  • To have the witnesses against them appear at trial and to question those witnesses
  • To have the court order any witnesses the defense has to appear at trial
  • To remain silent during the trial and to not have that silence used against them
  • To testify if they want to testify

Who should I talk to about my case?

​The important thing to remember on this is that what you say can and will be used against you.

If you are represented by an attorney, do not speak with the police or the Prosecutor. Only speak with your lawyer about your case. Anything you say to your attorney is confidential and will not be used against you.

If you have concerns about who to speak with, please contact your attorney. Do not write letters to the Judge, they will not read the letter without giving a copy to the Prosecutor, which may hurt your case.

If you are in jail, do not talk about your case over the phone because these calls are recorded.

What is the difference between a civil infraction, misdemeanor, and felony?

​In Michigan, offenses that bring a person into court come in three varieties.

Civil Infractions:
Least severe and are usually matters like a parking or speeding ticket. Civil Infractions are as the name suggests, civil matters. Admitting responsibility to a civil infraction does not result in a criminal record or conviction.

Misdemeanors are the next level. In Michigan, misdemeanors are crimes punishable by up to one year in jail and or two years of probation.

Felonies are the highest level of crime and a broadly defined as any crime punishable by more than one year of incarceration and or up to five years of probation. Felonies are the only crimes for which an individual can be sent to prison.

High-Court Misdemeanor:
Additionally, there is a sub-category of felony called a high-court misdemeanor. A high-court misdemeanor is punishable by up to two years in prison and/or five years of probation. A high-court misdemeanor is a felony for criminal justice purposes but a misdemeanor for civil purposes. After being convicted of a high-court misdemeanor a person does not have to state he or she has been convicted of a felony on job applications or other questionnaires but the conviction is otherwise treated as a felony.

I've been charged with a crime, what happens now?

​If you have been charged with a crime the first step is the arraignment.

At the arraignment the defendant

  • Finds out the specific charges against them
  • Pleads guilty or not guilty
  • Has bond set
  • Has next hearing schedule
If charged with a misdemeanor the next hearing will be a pre-trial conference eventually followed by a trial.

If charged with a felony the first hearing after the arraignment is a probable cause conference. A probable cause conference is a meeting between your attorney and the prosecutor to discuss scheduling, discovery issues, and potential resolutions in the case. After the PCC, the next hearing is a preliminary examination. A preliminary examination is a hearing where the prosecution must prove that there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed and that the defendant committed that crime.  If the prosecution is able to meet this burden, then the case is bound over to the Circuit Court and the process starts all over again.

A Circuit Court Arraignment is set, where the charges and penalties are read and bond is addressed. In most cases, the Circuit Court arraignment is waived and the matter is set for a pre-trial. If the case cannot be resolved at the first pre-trial conference, then a final pre-trial or settlement conference is set. If the case does not resolve, the matter gets set for trial.

The Attorney assigned to handle your case should contact you within a few days after being appointed and receiving the discovery/police report in the case to touch base about any questions or concerns you have before the next Court date. If you don’t not hear from your lawyer within that time frame, please do not hesitate to contact your lawyer.

The Judge ordered that I'm not supposed to have contact with someone, how does that work?

​If a Judge/Magistrate enters a no-contact order in your case, that means that the defendant is not allowed to have contact with that person. No-contact orders do not prevent the protected person from reaching out to the defendant and trying to contact them. If this occurs, contact your attorney and the attorney can contact the Prosecutor to inform them of this behavior. The order only applies one way and the protected person does not face any potential consequences for contacting the defendant. It is important to understand that no contact really means no contact. No contact means no contact, even if the protected person initiates the contact, you are still ordered not to have contact with him or her and can face consequences for doing so, possibly your bond being revoked and sitting in jail.

How should I dress when I appear in Court?

Going to court is a very serious matter. Please dress appropriately when appearing either in person or over Zoom. The court will adjourn your hearing if you are not in proper clothing. Additionally, it is inadvisable to wear clothes that have rude slogans, foul language, or inappropriate images. It is best to dress in a conservative fashion that doesn’t show unnecessary skin.

How do I know if my hearing is by Zoom or in person?

​Refer to the notice you received from the court or your attorney. If you are still confused about how to appear for your court date, please contact your lawyer immediately.

Can my family/kids/friends be with me when I meet my attorney?

​Your family should not be with you when you meet with your attorney. Anything you say to your attorney in private is protected by attorney-client privilege. Your attorney cannot be forced to reveal these communications and is ethically prohibited from doing so. This protection extends to the rest the attorney’s office including any other attorneys and staff. It does not extend to your family. If you have family or anyone else in the room when you are talking to your attorney, the communication is no longer protected by that privilege. This means that those people who are present could potentially be called to testify about what you told your attorney. The best thing to do is to have meetings with only your attorney and members of the attorney’s office  If you would like to waive that privilege, you must do so in writing.

The Judge ordered me to a pre-sentence interview and/or screening and assessment, what does that mean?

You have just been referred to the 53rd District Court’s Probation Department for a pre-sentence interview or a screening / assessment interview. This is an important appointment because the probation officer will be making recommendations to the Judge as to what type of sentencing you should receive for this conviction.

You will be given a notice with both your Probation Department appointment and the sentencing date/time.

You must appear for the appointment promptly as scheduled by probation. Wear proper attire. If you are late for the appointment, you will have to wait to see if the probation officer can fit you in during that working day. If he/she is unable to do so, you will be rescheduled and charged a $100 re-schedule fee. If you miss your appointment entirely, you will be charged the $100 re-schedule fee. The Judge may also order you held in the Livingston County Jail until the Probation Department can see you.

Children are not allowed in the Probation Department. Please do not bring your children to the appointment.

If I pay my Public Defender will he or she work harder on my case?

​No. In fact, the attorney appointed to your case is prohibited from taking any form of compensation from you in exchange for handling your case. The purpose of the Public Defender’s office is the provide zealous defense for individuals unable to afford to retain an attorney. The attorneys hired by the office have a passion for representing the indigent and will always work hard on your case. Offering to pay your public defender extra will not in any way impact how your case is handled. Public Defenders are not for private hire.

What happens if I fail to appear for a Court date?

If you fail to appear for a Court date a bench warrant will be issued for your arrest. That is why it is very important to keep your attorney updated with an address and phone number in case there are any scheduling changes. If a bench warrant is issued for your arrest, please contact your attorney immediately to make arrangements to clear up the warrant.

What to do if you can’t make it to court?

​Contact your attorney immediately. If you have to leave a message, please leave a number where you can be reached and the reason you are unable to attend court. The Attorney will make every effort to reschedule the court date, but ultimately the court will make that decision based on the reasoning.

Public Defender
Karen Groenhout

Karen Groenhout
Public Defender



(517) 540-8745


Monday – Friday
8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Closed County Holidays


1221 Byron Rd., Suite 1
Howell, MI 48843


(517) 376-6929