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Arizona’s Legal Process for Criminal Convictions

Posted on October 9, 2023 in

If you’re facing criminal charges in Arizona, you may wonder what to expect as you endure the legal process ahead. While it’s critical to seek skilled representation by a criminal attorney with a strong track record of success in similar cases, you’ll more successfully navigate Arizona’s criminal justice system by understanding each step of the process ahead.

All Americans are entitled to a strong defense and a prompt trial.

Arizona’s Legal Process for Criminal Convictions

An Arrest in Arizona

When you face arrest for an alleged crime in Arizona, it’s best to say nothing to the arresting officers until you’ve contacted your attorney. Typically, law enforcement will make an arrest when a judge issues a warrant under the following circumstances:

  • They have probable cause that you’ve committed a crime either through eyewitness testimony or other evidence
  • An officer witnessed you committing a crime
  • There was already an outstanding warrant for your arrest

During an arrest, the police will tell you that a warrant was issued for your arrest. In most cases, they’ll inform you of the charges against you at the time of your arrest. The officers don’t have to have the warrant present during the arrest but if you request the warrant they’re required to show you as soon as practicable. The officers may read you your Miranda rights at the scene or just before an interrogation. The police may handcuff you, depending on the gravity of the charges and if they believe you pose a risk.

Remember, you do not have to answer any questions that could later incriminate you. You may respond to all questions that you’re waiting for your Phoenix criminal defense attorney

The Initial Appearance 

After your initial detainment with fingerprinting and mugshots, you’ll be held until your initial appearance which happens within 24 hours of the arrest. This is the time to ask to call your attorney. At the initial appearance, you can expect a judge to request basic facts like your name and address before informing you officially of the charges against you. Typically, the following process occurs at this appearance:

  • A judge appoints an attorney if you cannot afford one only if the crime you’re facing is a felony
  • You’ll be informed of the conditions for your release, including a bail amount and whether or not you’ll be released on your own “recognizance,” meaning you’re expected to return on your own for your preliminary hearing

After this appearance, the court files formal charges unless the prosecutor decides the case lacks sufficient evidence and closes it. 

Understanding Bail in Arizona’s Criminal System

Bail is a specific amount of money a defendant must put up as a sort of collateral to ensure they return for their trial date. This serves as a means of avoiding incarceration while awaiting a trial date. A prosecutor may argue against bail under some circumstances, including for defendants who pose a threat to specific others, a threat to the community in general, or for those who are a fight risk. A judge decides on the appropriate amount of bail for each case.

After you’re released on bail or on your own recognizance, the court must schedule your court date within 150 days to meet your right to a prompt trial while still allowing ample time to form a strong defense strategy.

The Preliminary Hearing

At the preliminary hearing, a judge hears the evidence against you and decides if enough evidence exists to continue the case. Alternatively, the prosecutor may bring the case to a grand jury (nine of your peers) to review the case to determine if enough evidence exists to prosecute. If the case moves forward, the court sets an arraignment date. Before the arraignment, prosecutors may meet with your attorney at one or more status conferences to discuss whether or not a plea bargain deal is appropriate to negotiate for a reduced sentence.

The Arraignment Process in Arizona

The arraignment occurs ten days after the judge or grand jury agrees to proceed with the case if you did not agree to a plea deal. During the arraignment process, you’ll hear the charges against you and enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest—depending on the strategy you and your attorney decided is best for you under the unique circumstances of your case. A guilty plea or plea of no contest requires the judge to set a date for sentencing, while a not-guilty plea means the judge sets a date for a criminal trial to begin. If awaiting a trial, you may be allowed to wait at home or in jail, depending on the circumstances of your case.

Criminal Trials in Arizona

Before the trial, you’ll meet with your attorney several times to strategize and discuss your case so you know what to expect. When the trial begins, it follows the process below:

  • Opening statements from both sides
  • Witness examinations
  • Cross examinations 
  • Presentation of evidence
  • Redirect examination
  • Closing arguments from both sides
  • Jury deliberation
  • The delivery of a verdict of guilty or not guilty

The burden of evidence lies with the prosecution to prove you guilty of the alleged crime since you’re presumed innocent until they meet this burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. A trial may take a few days or several weeks to complete depending on the complexity of the case.

Sentencing in Arizona

Sentencing is the final step in the process for criminal convictions in Arizona. If you’re found guilty, the sentencing takes place at a separate hearing in which both sides may request specific parameters for your sentence. The judge hears arguments from both sides. The prosecutor argues for the maximum sentence while your attorney argues for the minimum. The judge must set sentencing within a range set by the legislature. Sentencing in Arizona includes any combination of the following:

  • Incarceration (jail or prison time)
  • Fines
  • Probation
  • Death penalty (for specific types of egregious murders)

Once sentenced, you can appeal the conviction in a later process. For death penalty sentencing, an appeal is automatically filed with the Supreme Court as part of the process. The Court of Appeals handles appeal processes for other convictions.