From Arrest to Trial: Steps of Arizona Criminal Cases

steps of a criminal caseGetting arrested can be a scary occurrence, especially if you have never been in trouble with the law before. Being in jail for the first time in custody can be intimidating, especially if you don’t know what to do. Being arrested is the beginning of the Arizona criminal case process. Arrests can happen in two ways. An officer of the law witnesses a crime and apprehends the suspect who committed the crime. A judge issues a warrant for the arrest of an individual with sufficient evidence given to the court that a crime occurred. Suspects must be given an initial hearing in front of a judge within 24 hours of arrest or released from custody.

Initial Hearing

During an initial hearing appearance, the judge will verify the defendant’s name and address. The judge will then inform the defendant of the charges that are brought forth against them. The judge will advise the defendant that they do have the right to remain silent, much like Mirandizing done by the police at the time of the arrest. If the defendant does not have legal counsel, the judge will assign one at this time. This typically only applies to felony charges. In the case of a misdemeanor charge, one will not be appointed unless the court has set a bond and the defendant cannot post it.

The judge will decide if probable cause exists for the charges and if the defendant can be released from custody. The judge will also set release conditions during this hearing.

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Preliminary Hearing

Preliminary hearings are generally held in cases where a felony has been committed unless the grand jury has indicted the defendant. The preliminary hearing is where witnesses are heard before the judge, presented by both defense and prosecution. If the judge finds that probable cause exists for the charges, the defendant will be held for trial, and the arraignment date is set.

Grand Jury

When a Grand Jury is called to determine if probable cause exists in a case, the panel will consist of citizens from the community who will serve for several months if necessary. This panel will hear from the prosecution and their witnesses. In most Grand Jury cases, the defendant and their legal representative are not allowed to be present. For the defendant to be indicted, at least nine members of the jury must agree on the probable cause.

Arraignment Hearing

At an arraignment hearing, the defendant is required to enter their plea. The choices include guilty, not guilty, or no contest. This should be done with legal representation present.

If the defendant enters a plea of “not guilty,” the judge will set a pretrial conference or a trial date for the defendant.

For cases with “guilty” and “no contest” pleas, the judge will then set a sentencing hearing for the defendant to receive their sentence for the crime.

Trial

The defendant of any case has the right to a trial in front of a judge or by a jury of their peers. Most jury trials are only done for felony charges and some misdemeanors. After trial, the judge will either sentence the defendant right then, or a sentencing hearing will be scheduled for a later date.

Right to Legal Representation

No matter the severity of a charge, a defendant has the right to obtain legal counsel. In the state of Arizona, having a criminal defense lawyer on your side during a hearing can be the difference between freedom and jail time. If you are arrested, call an experienced criminal defense attorney. You are entitled to protection by legal representation.