Felony charges such as
and possession of dangerous drugs are filed in the superior court on either
an indictment or an information. These forms are collectively referred
to as charging documents and the manner in which they are prepared is
governed by Rule 13 of the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure. When a
felony case is initiated in court it must first go through a probable
cause determination before the matter can be set for trial. There are
two different forms in which this can occur.
The first is called a grand jury this is where the prosecution presents
the case to a group of citizens outside the presence of the defendant
and the grand jurors are asked to determine whether probable cause exists
based on the evidence presented to them by the prosecution. If the grand
jury finds probable cause they return an indictment which then becomes
the charging document in that particular case.
Alternatively a felony charge can be initiated through a preliminary hearing
which is conducted in a manner very similar to that of a trial however
during a preliminary hearing there is no jury rather a judge is the fact
finder and the burden of proof is much lower than that ordinarily required
at a criminal trial. At a criminal trial when a person could potentially
be imprisoned if convicted our constitution requires that the prosecution
provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt before that can occur. During
a preliminary hearing however the prosecution is required only to demonstrate
that probable cause exists for the case to move forward in the court system.
If a preliminary hearing is held and the judge finds probable cause the
state is permitted to file a document called an information which would
be used as the charging document throughout the remainder of that case.
Because felony cases involving indictments are initiated through the grand
jury where neither the defendant nor the defense attorney are present
the prosecutor has special obligations to present the evidence in a fair
and impartial manner and present evidence that is clearly exculpatory
meaning that it tends to show that the person accused is not guilty. If
the prosecutor fails to present the evidence to the grand jury in this
manner the case could be remanded to the grand jury for a re‑determination
of probable cause.
Although the grand jury was once reserved for more serious cases like
second degree murder
sexual conduct with a minor
the Maricopa County attorney's office has been utilizing the grand
jury much more broadly over the past three years and typically sends less-serious
felony cases through that process including those involving allegations
of possession of