A criminal case is started by either a police officer handing you a citation with a date and time that you must appear in court, or the prosecuting attorney mails to you a complaint with a summons. The summons contains the date and time that you must appear in court. The typical steps in a criminal case follow:
The Arraignment is the first appearance in court. If you received a citation from a police officer, your arraignment date appears at the bottom of your copy of the citation. If you were mailed a summons and complaint, your arraignment date is on the summons. If you were arrested and released from jail your release order will have your court date on it.
No witnesses are present at arraignment and no testimony will be taken. The judge at arraignment will not grant a defendant's request to dismiss any charges. Instead, you must decide upon and enter a plea to the charge against you. There are three possible pleas to a criminal charge: Not Guilty, Guilty, No Contest.
Your decision on what plea to enter is one of the most important decisions you will make. We suggest you read the following explanations before entering your plea:
Plea of Not Guilty
Anyone accused of a crime in the United States is presumed to be innocent. A plea of "Not Guilty" means that you deny guilt and the State of Arizona, through the prosecutor must prove the criminal charge(s) against you at a trial by a legal standard called “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If you enter a plea of "Not Guilty," a pre-trial conference will be scheduled. The purpose of a pre-trial conference is explained below. If you plead "Not Guilty", you must decide whether to employ an attorney to represent you. You may defend yourself, but no one except an attorney may represent you.
In certain types of cases, a court appointed attorney may be provided for you. In those cases, if you feel that you cannot afford an attorney and wish representation, you may fill out an application requesting that an attorney be appointed to represent you. If an attorney is appointed to represent you, you may be ordered to contribute to the cost of your attorney.
If you choose to represent yourself, the rules of procedure will apply to you just as they would apply to a lawyer. You will be presumed to know trial procedure, and the laws that apply to your case.
Plea of Guilty
By a plea of "Guilty", you admit that you committed the act charged in the complaint(s), that the act is prohibited by law, and that you have no legal defense for your act.
If you were involved in an incident where someone was injured at the time of the alleged offense, your plea of "Guilty" could be used later in a civil suit for damages as an admission by you that you were at fault or were the party responsible for the injury.
There are other consequences that go along with a plea of guilty. If you are not a citizen of the United States, a conviction may result in deportation or removal and may prohibit you from getting legal status in the future. If you are convicted of a domestic violence offense, you will be prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm or ammunition under federal law. If you need a fingerprint clearance card for you job, a domestic violence conviction may affect that clearance. If you have a professional license, any criminal conviction may have an affect on that license. Finally, if you are a school teacher (including a charter school teacher) a conviction under Arizona’s criminal code (Title 13) will be reported to the Arizona Department of Education.
Plea of No Contest
A plea of "No Contest" means that you do not wish to contest the State's charge against you. Upon a plea of "No Contest", the Judge will enter a judgment of guilt.
B. THE PRETRIAL CONFERENCE
You and/or your attorney will be given an opportunity to meet with a Prosecutor to review the facts supporting the State's criminal charges against you. You may be provided with a settlement offer at the pre- trial conference (PTC). At the PTC, you are entitled to review the evidence against you including police reports, accident reports, and any other evidence that the State intends to use at the trial. At this time you must disclose the names and addresses of witnesses you will be calling to testify at trial and any other evidence you intend to present. If you fail to give notice of your witnesses or evidence, you may be prohibited from using such witnesses or evidence at your trial.
Requests for subpoenas should be made well in advance of your trial so that you have time to have the subpoenas properly served.
Witnesses do not attend the pre-trial conference, and no testimony is taken. You are not required to discuss the facts of your case with the Prosecutor. The Prosecutor may well be a nice person, but the Prosecutor represents the State and will put forward a case based on the statements of the police officers who cited you. Anything you say to a Prosecutor could be used against you in further proceedings.
You have three options at the PTC:
- You have the option of accepting the Prosecutor's settlement offer, called a plea agreement, which will spell out your sentence. If the judge accepts the agreement, you will be sentenced to the terms in the plea agreement.
- If you believe that you are guilty but do not like what the prosecutor offers you, you may plead guilty or no contest to the judge. The judge will hear from both sides before deciding on a sentence.
- You can maintain your plea of "Not Guilty" and have the case set to trial.
C. THE TRIAL
Depending on the alleged offense, you are entitled to either a jury trial or non- jury trial, that is, a trial to the judge.
You are entitled to hear all testimony introduced against you, however, if you do not appear the trial can be held without you and you may be found guilty in your absence.
You have a right to cross-examine any witness who testifies against you. You have a right to testify on your own behalf. You also have a Constitutional right not to testify. If you choose not to testify, your refusal cannot and will not be used against you in determining your guilt or innocence. However, if you do choose to testify, the Prosecutor will have the right to cross-examine you.
You may call witnesses to testify on your behalf. If they will not come voluntarily, you have the right to have the Court issue subpoenas for witnesses to ensure their appearance at trial. Requests for subpoenas to be issued should be made well in advance of your trial so that you have time to have the subpoenas properly served.
The trial is the time when the prosecutor presents the evidence supporting the allegation against you. You have the right to put on your own evidence, but a defendant is not required
Presenting Your Case
If you are represented by an attorney; you will be advised regarding the presentation of your case. If not, you need to be aware of the following:
The State will present its case first by calling witnesses to testify against you.
After each prosecution witness has finished giving testimony, you will have the right to cross-examine the witness. Your examination must be in the form of questions about their testimony. Do not argue with the witness. Do not attempt to tell your side of the story at this time. You will have an opportunity to tell your version of the facts later in the trial, if you so choose.
After the prosecution has presented its case, you may present your case. You have the right to call witnesses of your choosing.It is at this point that you may testify on your own behalf if you desire.
Following the defense case, the State may, if it wishes, then present rebuttal evidence.
At the end of the trial, you will have an opportunity to summarize your case to the jury, or, in a non-jury case, to the Judge. At that time, both sides argue based on the evidence presented during the trial.
The State is required to prove the charge(s) against you beyond a reasonable doubt.
The judgment or verdict will be based on the facts and evidence presented during the trial. Only the evidence admitted by the Court and the testimony of witnesses who are under oath can be considered.
If you are found not guilty, the case ends. If you are found guilty, you will be sentenced. The sentencing can take place at the time you are found guilty, or on a later date.
The amount of any jail sentence, fine, fee, restitution, or probation assessed by the Court is affected by the facts and circumstances of the case and your prior criminal record. Mitigating circumstances may lower the amount of jail, fine, or probation. However, aggravating circumstances may increase the amount of jail, fine, or probation.
For some offenses, there are statutory minimum sentences which the Judge must impose. In no instance will sentences exceed the maximum levels of $2,500 fine plus surcharges and/or 6 months in jail and/or 5 years probation.
E. PAYING THE FINE
If you are ordered to pay a fine, fee, and/or restitution, payment in full is expected on the day of sentencing. Payment on any financial sentence may be made by cash, check, money order, credit/debit card or payment by phone. If you meet certain financial requirements, you may be allowed some time to pay. However, a time payment fee will be added to the amount that you owe. Failure to comply with a payment schedule will result in additional Court proceedings and possible sanctions for non- compliance. This may include, but is not limited to a warrant being issued for your arrest, the suspension of your driver's license, referral to a collection agency, the attachment of your Arizona income tax refund, and any other legally appropriate collection actions against you. If the Court refers your account to a collection agency, any additional collection fees will be added to your account balance.
If You Are Contacted By A Collector
Courts have begun using a collection agency as part of a program called “FARE” standing for Fines, Fees, and Restitution Enforcement.” You may be able to locate and pay your account on line by using the keyword “FARE” on the search engine on your computer. You will need the account number which appears on the collection letter.
You may be required to pay restitution for any damage or economic loss suffered by a victim. All restitution payments must be made to the Court for disbursement to the victim.
F. THE APPEAL
Following a trial, you have the right to appeal a final judgment of this Court to the Superior Court. The Notice of Appeal must be filed within 14 calendar days of the judgment against you. The Judge in your case will advise you of your appeal rights following sentencing in your case. If you decide to appeal, you will receive information on how to file the necessary papers to “perfect” your appeal. You will also receive information about the fees for a copy of a recording of your trial.
In ruling on your appeal, the Superior Court will review the issues of law arising from your trial or hearing. Your appeal will not result in a retrial of the facts and you will not be allowed to present new evidence or testimony on appeal.