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Being arrested for an Arizona misdemeanor charge is both extremely stressful and extremely scary. Knowing the course that your case will take can help ease some of this stress.
In this article, we will explain in a general way what you can expect in each step of the criminal process in limited jurisdiction, or lower, Arizona courts, which are those that handle only misdemeanor cases in their criminal caseload.
Keep in mind that every court in Arizona may have different procedures or names for these steps, and the best way to know exactly what to expect is to speak to your attorney.
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Arizona Misdemeanor Charges
Being charged with an Arizona misdemeanor crime is the first step. There are two ways that misdemeanor cases can be handled in limited jurisdiction Arizona courts. The first is that an officer directly cites you for a crime.
If a police officer believes there is probable cause to believe that you committed a misdemeanor, they can give you a citation for the crime. This is the most common way in which cases start. For example, a person arrested for a DUI is typically given a citation which lists the charges and a future court date.
There are two ways that misdemeanor cases can be handled in limited jurisdiction Arizona courts
The second way a misdemeanor can be initiated in a limited jurisdiction court is called a long form complaint. In a long form complaint, a prosecutor reviews a submittal (request for charges) that is provided by an officer. The prosecutor then determines if they believe there is probable cause to charge you with a crime. If so, they will file a complaint with the court, and you will usually be summoned to appear.
Arizona Misdemeanor Arraignment / First Hearing
An arraignment is typically the first hearing set in a misdemeanor criminal case. If you are booked into custody on your misdemeanor rather than cited and released or summoned, then you will have an Initial Appearance prior to the arraignment where a judge will decide what release conditions to impose.
At your Arraignment, the Court will inform you of the charges against you and you can enter a plea of not guilty. If you retain an attorney to represent you prior to the Arraignment then it will likely be vacated once the attorney files their Notice of Appearance.
A pretrial conference is the next step in the misdemeanor criminal case. While they may have different names, all of these hearings are essentially status conferences for the Court to make sure that the case is proceeding as it should.
Most misdemeanors will have more than one pretrial conference prior to the case resolving. If you resolve the case by way of a plea agreement, it can usually be entered into at that time. It is at the last pretrial conference that a court date will usually be set.
Evidentiary Hearing / Oral Argument
If there is a motion filed in your case that requires the Court to consider evidence then it will set the matter for an Evidentiary Hearing. At that hearing both you and the State may present evidence to support your motion.
If no evidence is required because it is a strictly legal matter or because both parties agree to the facts, then the Court may just set the matter for an Oral Argument and hear from the parties about why it should rule a certain way. After an evidentiary hearing or oral argument, the case may end if it is a dispositive motion.
If the motion does not dispose of the case, then you will either proceed to trial or enter into a plea agreement.
The Trial Process
The trial in your case will determine whether you are guilty or not guilty. Some misdemeanors, like DUI and Shoplifting, are jury trials, and will be decided by six jurors. Others, like Assault or Disorderly Conduct, are bench trials, and will be decided by a judge alone.
At the trial, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt, that you’ve committed the offense you are charged with. If the prosecutor fails to do so, then you will be acquitted. If they succeed, then you will be convicted.
The Sentencing Process
In misdemeanor cases you will usually be sentenced on the day that you are convicted, whether it be by losing a trial or entering a guilty plea. At the time of sentencing, the Court will ask for sentencing recommendations from the State and from your attorney.
You will have an opportunity to speak on your own behalf, called an allocution, or you can elect not to say anything. After hearing from both parties, the Court will determine what sentence to give you and pronounce sentence.
The Appeal Process
There are two primary types of appeal: a direct appeal and post-conviction relief. You may pursue a direct appeal only if you lose a trial. On direct appeal, a higher court will review the proceedings to determine if there are any issues that would lead to a reversal or change of sentence.
Once you file a notice of appeal the record will be prepared, and you or your attorney must file a brief with the Court. The State will have an opportunity to respond, and then the higher court will decide.
There are two primary types of appeal: a direct appeal and post-conviction relief.
If you enter a plea, or have lost a direct appeal, you can challenge your conviction through post-conviction relief. Post-conviction relief is a more limited type of appeal and requires you to first file the petition with the same court that sentenced you.
Only if that court rejects your request can you ask a higher court to review the petition. That higher court’s review is discretionary.
Once you are sentenced and have exhausted your appellate rights, there are additional proceedings that may occur. You might file a motion to have your conviction set aside, thereby dismissing the case after the fact.
In certain instances, if wrongfully charged, you can file a motion for a notation on the record, which seals the case and police reports and clears your conviction.
Sometimes the sentencing court may set sentence review hearings to make sure that you are following through on your requirements.
Having an Arizona Criminal Defense Lawyer is Crucial
Arizona Defense Attorney Omer Gurion has spent the majority of his professional career successfully defending those that are facing a criminal charge and potential prison time. He is their voice throughout the entire process and works diligently hard to ensure the best and most favorable outcome.
If you are facing any sort of criminal charge, whether it’s as simple as a criminal speeding ticket, or a serious felony charge, give Gurion Legal a call today!