- Legal Advocate
- The Court Process
- Criminal Proceedings
Anything you say to the police, to family members or to others could be used against you in court. Therefore, do not discuss your case with anyone except your attorney or our office staff.
Always remember that you and your attorney are partners working for the best possible result for you. If you would like the attorney to discuss your case with family members, you must give the attorney permission to speak with them.
- Court Appearances
- Felony Indictment
- Plea Agreements
- Preliminary Hearings
- Pretrial Hearings
Arraignments are held in Superior Court. At the arraignment, the Court will enter a “Not Guilty” plea on your behalf and will ensure that you have an attorney representing you on your case.
If the Court determines that you cannot afford to hire an attorney, one will be appointed to assist you and you will receive instructions on how to contact your assigned attorney.
Assigning a Judge & Next Court Date
The Court will also assign your case to a judge and set your upcoming court dates. The next court date is an Initial Pretrial Conference Hearing.
Important Information About Court Appearances
You must appear in court for all your court hearings unless told otherwise by your lawyer. It can take several months for a case to move through the court system. During that time, it is important for you to keep in touch with your lawyer and to make all court appearances until your lawyer tells you that your case is over.
You can help your lawyer by:
- Being on time for court.
- Coming to court prepared with any questions you have for your attorney.
- Wearing appropriate clothing.
The initial appearance is your first step in the criminal justice system. At this appearance you will be:
- Informed of your charges.
- Appointed an attorney if you are unable to afford to retain the services of a private attorney.
- Advised of your next court date and court location.
Felonies Charged by Indictment
If you received an “indictment” on a felony offense, you will not have a preliminary hearing.
Instead, the Grand Jury has already found probable cause to charge you. Your next court date will be for an arraignment.
Under the law you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. A plea agreement is an agreement you enter with the State, with the acknowledgment and assistance of your attorney.
Typically, plea agreements offered by the prosecutor will give you a better sentence than if you went to trial and lost. The decision to plead guilty is entirely up to you.
By pleading guilty you give up several rights, including your right to trial. It is important to review the entire plea agreement with your attorney and that you understand the consequences of entering into the agreement before you sign it and before you enter it in court.
If you have any questions about the plea agreement, be sure to discuss them with your attorney.
Please note: even though you sign a plea agreement with the prosecutor, the judge is not required to accept the terms of the agreement.
Preliminary Hearings - Non-indictment Felonies Only
Many cases in Maricopa County are set for a preliminary hearing. The preliminary hearing is a court hearing before a court commissioner in the Regional Court Center (RCC). You usually will meet the lawyer assigned to your case for the first time during this proceeding. The prosecutor can present witnesses and evidence at the hearing. The commissioner’s job is to decide if there is enough evidence to show two things:
- That the crime charged actually occurred, and
- That there is probable cause to believe that you are the person who committed the crime.
If the commissioner finds that there is not sufficient evidence to believe that the crime occurred or to demonstrate that you probably were the person who committed the crime, the case will be dismissed. If the commissioner is convinced that there is sufficient evidence to believe those two points, your case will be set for an Initial Pretrial Conference (IPTC).
Scratched or Vacated Preliminary Hearings
Occasionally, preliminary hearings are “scratched” or “vacated.” This may mean that the formal charges were not filed or that the prosecutor has chosen to take the case to the grand jury. The charges may be re-filed. Be sure to provide any address changes to the post office so mail from the court about your charges will reach you. If you do not, you may be arrested when the charges are re-filed.
Waiving the Hearing & Plea Agreements
You may waive the preliminary hearing if you, your attorney, and the prosecutor reach a plea agreement. Typically, prosecutors offer plea agreements that provide a better sentence than you would obtain if you choose to go to trial and lose.
If you accept the prosecutor’s offer, you give up your right to a preliminary hearing and a trial and, instead, enter into the plea agreement in court that same day. Your sentencing date will be scheduled approximately one month from the date upon which you enter into the plea agreement.
The Court may set a number of pretrial hearings before your case proceeds to trial.
The settings may include:
- Comprehensive Pretrial Conference (CPTC)
- Hearings on motions filed by the attorneys
- Initial Pretrial Conference (IPTC)
- Settlement Conferences
- Status Conferences
- Trial Management Conferences
A trial is a court proceeding where the prosecutor must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that you committed the crime charged.
Your attorney will have an opportunity to cross examine the prosecutor’s witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence to tell your story.
Judge or Jury
Felony trials are heard by a jury unless you, your attorney, and the prosecutor agree to have your case presented to a judge.
If you enter into a plea agreement or if you are found guilty after trial, you will be scheduled for sentencing approximately one month later.
Report For the Judge
Before the sentencing date, you will meet with a probation officer who will prepare a report for the judge. The report will include a recommendation for your sentence. You should discuss this process with your attorney before you meet with the probation officer.
In addition, provide your attorney with letters of support, personal references and other information that could motivate the judge to look more favorably upon you at your sentencing.
Speaking On Your Behalf
At sentencing, your attorney will have the opportunity to speak on your behalf. You also will have the chance to speak to the judge. If you want anyone else to speak on your behalf at sentencing, let your attorney know in advance of the hearing.
Those who cannot attend sentencing can submit a letter on your behalf. The letters may be addressed to the sentencing judge, but should be sent to your attorney so the attorney can review them and submit them to the Court on your behalf.
If you are convicted after a trial or a guilty plea and wish to appeal your case, you will have the right to file an appeal or petition for post-conviction relief.
Discuss this with your attorney prior to sentencing. If you wish to appeal, your attorney will file a notice of appeal or notice of post-conviction relief on your behalf.