- Public Defense Services
- Client Services
- Court Processes
- Criminal Proceedings
Anything you say to the police, family members or to others can be used against you in court. Therefore, do not discuss your case with anyone except your attorney or someone from our offices.
Always remember that you and your attorney are partners 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.
You and your attorney have different responsibilities during the proceeding.
As the client, you always decide:
- Whether or not to go to trial or to take a plea agreement
- Whether or not to testify
- Whether or not to appeal after being convicted
- Whether or not to file a post-conviction relief (PCR)
- Unlike an appeal, the client is responsible for obtaining and filing PCR paperwork in a timely fashion
Your lawyer is responsible for making strategic decisions, such as:
- Which motions to file
- Whether to object in court
- Which witnesses to call
- Which issues to raise on appeal and PCR filings
- Court Appearances
- Initial Hearing/ Appearance
- Felony Indictment
- Preliminary Hearings
- Plea Agreements
Important Information About Court Appearances
You must appear in court for all your court hearing unless told otherwise by you 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 to court
- Come to court prepared with any questions you have for your attorney
- Wear 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 and retain the services of a private attorney
- Advised if your next court date and court location
- Given release conditions or a bond
Arraignments are heard 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 instruction on how to contact your assigned attorney.
Assigning a Judge and 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.
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 arraignment.
Many cases in Maricopa County are set for a preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing is a hearing before a Court Commissioner at which the state must present evidence, usually a police officer or a police report, that a crime was committed and that there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed the crime. The accused will be assigned an attorney, if the person does not have an attorney, to assist them at the hearing.
Case Disposition - Dismissal or Proceeding
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 not receive notice of a court hearing. If you do not appear for the curt hearing, a warrant will be issued for your arrest.
Waiving the Hearing and 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, a trial and, an appeal. You will 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.
Under the law you are presumed innocent until proven guilty at a trial or you plead guilty.
The state may offer you a plea agreement. A plea agreement is an agreement you enter with the state where you accept responsibility for some of the charges or reduced charges in exchange for a better sentence than you would receive if you were found guilty of all charges. If the state offers you a plea agreement, your attorney will discuss the agreement with you. The decision on whether to take the plea agreement 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 questions about the plea agreement, be sure to discuss them with your attorney.
Even though you sign a plea agreement with the prosecutor, the judge is not required to accept the terms of the agreement.
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. The prosecutor must prove you committed the offense without asking you any questions. You have a right to remain silent. It is your decision, after talking with your attorney, whether you will testify.
You do not have the burden of proving you are innocent.
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 reports 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 the 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 and you want to appeal your case, you have a right to an appeal and a right to file a petition for Post Conviction Relief. If you entered into a plea agreement, you may have waived your right to an appeal but you may still file a petition for Post Conviction Relief. After sentencing you have a very limited time to file a Notice of Appeal or 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.
An Appeal is a request to a higher court to review your case because Superior Court made errors regarding law during your trial. An appellate court will not reweigh the evidence. The court will review the trail transcripts and the briefs submitted by the parties to determine if Superior Court made any errors and if those error impacted the outcome of the case.
Post-conviction proceedings are governed by Rule 32 of the Arizona Rules of Procedure and provide the grounds for available relief, including a new guilt or sentencing trial. The most common ground raised in post-conviction is ineffective assistance of trial or appellate counsel. The Arizona and US Constitutions also play an important part in post-conviction proceedings and provide additional grounds for an individual to seek a new trial or other available relief.