If you find yourself charged with a criminal offense in Arizona, the first thing you should know is that the initial process happens quickly. By law, you are entitled to an Initial Appearance within the first 24 hours of your arrest if detained. At this hearing, the judge will determine the conditions of your release. Release conditions are broken down into four broad categories. The judge may release you on your own recognizance, release you to a third party or pretrial services, impose a bond, or hold you non-bondable.
In Phoenix, Arizona this process happens quickly and can make the difference between sitting in jail for months as your cases progresses, or remaining out of custody until the case is resolved. If you find yourself in this situation, the first thing you should do is call any attorney immediately who knows how the system works and can fight for your freedom.
As the judicial process continues, the court will set a number of hearings to ensure that your case is moving along and that your right to a speedy trial has not been violated. During this period, the prosecution may extend a plea offer, however, by law, they are not required to. This means you may be forced to go to trial even if you prefer a plea bargain. If an offer is extended, your attorney should always attempt to negotiate the best possible plea on your behalf based on the surrounding facts and circumstances in your case.
When an individual is arrested, he or she may be taken into custody or given a citation and released. A custodial arrest means that the individual has been detained, taken to the local jail, fingerprinted and booked. The individual will remain in custody until release conditions are determined by the court at the Initial Appearance 24 hours later.
If an individual is cited and released, he or she will receive a ticket for the alleged offense at the scene. By signing the ticket, the individual agrees to appear in court on the date and time listed on the ticket. Release conditions are usually addressed at such time as the scheduled hearing.
By law, an individual who has been arrested and taken into custody is entitled to an Initial Appearance within the first 24 hours of his or her arrest. At this hearing, the judge will confirm the individual’s true name and address and impose conditions of release. Release conditions may include any of the following:
• Release on your own recognizance (ROR)
• Release to a third party of pretrial services
• Imposition of a bond
• A non-bondable hold
Additional restrictions may include:
• Random drug testing
• House arrest
• Electronic monitoring
The victim is entitled to address the court and provide his or her opinion regarding release conditions. The judge may also consider argument from counsel. Release conditions can always be revisited by the judge for non-compliance with the terms and conditions of release.
A Preliminary Hearing is an evidentiary hearing held in open court to determine probable cause. During the hearing, the prosecution must present evidence to the judge who will determine if sufficient probable cause exists to proceed with the case. In some instances, the prosecution may elect to present this evidence to a grand jury instead. A grand jury is a panel of jurors comprised of members of the community. Much like the judge, the grand jury members will hear the evidence and determine if sufficient probable cause exists to proceed with the case. Grand jury proceedings are not held in open court and no judge is present.
A Criminal Complaint or Indictment is formal legal document that sets out the charges against an individual. When the case proceeds by Preliminary Hearing, a Criminal Complaint is issued. When a case proceeds by Grand Jury, an Indictment is issued.
The Arraignment is a formal reading of the criminal complaint or Indictment to inform an individual of the charges that have been filed. At this hearing, the judge will set the schedule for future court appearances and asks the individual how he or she intends to plead, guilty or not guilty.
A Pretrial Conference is a hearing intended to allow the judge to monitor the progression of the case and to ensure that all the evidence in the prosecution’s possession has been turned over to the defense. The parties may engage in plea negotiations during this stage as well. There is no limit as to the number of pretrial conferences in any given case, however, in most felony prosecutions there are at least two, the initial pretrial conference and the comprehensive pretrial conference.
In most criminal cases, the parties may elect to participate in, or the court may order, a Settlement Conference. This is an opportunity for the prosecution and the defense to meet with the judge and discuss the status of plea negotiations. It is also an opportunity for the prosecution to explain the evidence it has against an individual. These hearings are designed to foster open communication and settlement. In some instances, an accused individual may elect to enter into a plea agreement. This can be done at the Settlement Conference or any Pretrial Conference.
An evidentiary hearing is a hearing designed to address disputed legal issues. At an evidentiary hearing, the moving or non-moving party, depending upon who has the burden of proof, may present evidence to support their position or refute the position of the opposing party. In some instances, the court may only request Oral Argument on the issue and further evidence is not needed. Some examples include an Evidentiary Hearing on a Motion to Suppress Evidence, or Oral Argument on a Motion to Modify Release Conditions. Because the facts in every case are unique, not all cases require an Evidentiary Hearing or Oral Argument.
If the case is not resolved by plea agreement or dismissal the parties will proceed to trial. A jury trial consists of a panel of 8 or 12 jurors, depending upon the nature of the charge. The initial jury pool is made up of randomly selected members of the community. During jury selection, each party has a limited number of strikes that they may use to eliminate members they don’t want on the jury panel. Once the panel has been selected, it is the prosecution’s burden to present its evidence and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an individual is guilty. A bench trial is similar except that the prosecution presents the evidence to a judge instead of a jury. Bench trials are rare in felony criminal prosecutions.
When an individual enters into a plea agreement or is convicted at trial, he or she must be sentenced within 30 days of his or her conviction. At sentencing, the judge is limited to the range of sentences identified in the plea agreement. If convicted at trial, the judge is limited to the range of sentences identified in the Arizona Revised Statutes. Because the available sentence often includes a range, the prosecution may request an aggravation hearing to enhance the sentence, or the defense may request a mitigation hearing to mitigate the sentence. The court will generally set an aggravation or mitigation hearing another 30 days out so the parties can prepare their evidence and or argument.
In the state of Arizona, victims of crimes have the right to criminal restitution if the individual is convicted. Restitution may include costs to repair or replace damaged or stolen property, costs associated with traveling to and from court, lost wages and medical bills. A restitution hearing is designed to allow the victim to present testimony to support his or her claim. It is also an opportunity for the defense to question the validity of the restitution claims if the claim is disputed.
If an individual disputes a conviction or the plea agreement as entered, he or she must file an appeal. Appeals are time sensitive and once a decision regarding appeal has been rendered, opportunity for further appeal is often limited. It is important to talk to your attorney in more detail about the appeals process if you find yourself in this situation.
Adult Criminal Defense