Your Phoenix Criminal Case: The Basics

If you or someone close to you is dealing with a criminal case in Phoenix, you are likely feeling a lot of uncertainty. If you are in the 4th Avenue jail, you might be wondering when you are getting out and how to make bail. If you are out of jail, you probably want to know which courthouse you'll be going to or how your arraignment in Maricopa County is going to go down.

Since arrests occur in so many different situations, it is difficult to predict exactly what will happen. This article provides general information about what to expect in a Phoenix misdemeanor or felony criminal case.

Statute of Limitations: Time Limits

What in the world is a "statute of limitations?" Simply put, the prosecutor only has a certain amount of time to charge you with a crime. In most states, crimes have a specific time limit, except for murder, which has no time limit.

So, let's say ten years ago you stole a pair of socks from a store at Paradise Valley Mall. You can't be charged with a theft crime today. Why? The time limit simply ran out.

The term "statute of limitations" comes from Roman times. Don't worry, gladiator. This isn't going to be a history lesson. If you've committed a crime in Arizona, felonies usually have longer statutes of limitations than misdemeanors.

Whatcha Gonna Do When They Come for You?

If you haven't yet been arrested, you can expect to be contacted by the Phoenix Police Department, the Highway Patrol, or the Maricopa County Sheriff.

The U.S. Constitution and the state of Arizona give criminal defendants several protections under the law. If the police don't follow these rules, it could jeopardize the state's case against you.

Once you are in custody and before you are interrogated, you should be read your Miranda rights. Then, the police have two options: take you to jail for booking or release you with a promise to appear at a later date. If you're taken into custody, you'll either be released on your own recognizance or you'll have to post bail. Bail is money that you have to pay to the courts in order to be released from jail pending trial. You usually have to put up 10% of the total amount of bail the judge sets in your case in order to get out.

Arraignment

If you are in custody, you'll be arraigned within 24 hours of your arrest at one of the local courts. Yes, there will be a judge in a black robe and possibly a gavel. He or she will decide whether it is appropriate for you to be released. The judge will hear from the prosecutor, defense, and possibly the victim, if there is one, before making this decision. If the judge decides to release you, he or she can impose certain conditions in order for you to remain out of custody, such as forfeiting your weapons, forbidding contact between you and any victims, or other conditions that must be followed while the case is ongoing.

You'll also enter a plea of guilty, no contest, or not guilty. If you plead not guilty, you will have the option of hiring a lawyer, representing yourself, or asking for the Pima County Public Defender.

Preliminary Hearing or Grand Jury

If you are facing felony charges, your case is going one of two ways: preliminary hearing or a grand jury hearing.

A preliminary hearing is an evidentiary hearing before a court commissioner, usually at the Regional Court Center. The prosecutor can present witnesses and evidence at the hearing. The commissioner's job is to decide if there is enough evidence to show that you probably committed the crime you are charged with.

If the commissioner doesn't think there is enough evidence, they'll dismiss your case. If the commissioner does think there's enough evidence, your case will be set for another arraignment and an Initial Pretrial Conference (IPTC).

Grand Jury

Many Phoenix felony cases will proceed via a grand jury hearing. The prosecutor presents evidence about your case to 15 people on the Grand Jury panel. After hearing the evidence, at least 9 grand jurors must find probable cause.

This is a secret proceeding and the defendant and the criminal defense attorney are not entitled to attend the hearing.

If you received an "indictment" for a felony, you won't have a preliminary hearing. The Grand Jury has already found probable cause to charge you.

Second Arraignment

Most people plead "not guilty," and then you have the IPTC. Don't be surprised if the Court sets a number of pretrial hearings before your case proceeds to trial. The settings may include: an Initial Pretrial Conference (IPTC), Comprehensive Pretrial Conference (CPTC), Status Conference, Settlement Conference, Trial Management Conference, and hearings on motions filed by the attorneys.

Trial

If you go to trial, the prosecution must prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to the jury. A felony trial can take anywhere from a week to several months depending on the nature and complexity of your case.

You automatically have the right to a jury trial where between eight and 12 people hear the evidence. All jurors must agree that you are guilty. If they can't agree, it's called a "hung jury" and the judge will declare a mistrial.

Sentencing

If you enter into a plea agreement or if you are found guilty after trial, you will be scheduled for sentencing approximately 30 to 40 days later. 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. It may be a good idea to discuss this process with your attorney before you meet with the probation officer. In addition, you'll probably want to 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.

Criminal cases can have a serious, lasting impact on your life. You have options and rights. Anyone charged with an offense may want to consider consulting with a skilled attorney.

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