In the United States, we have state laws which are created by state legislators
and federal laws, which are enacted by Congress. A “criminal case”
is commenced when someone breaks a law, which is punishable by fines,
probation, imprisonment, or even the death penalty. When charges are officially
filed against a defendant (accused person), the prosecutor formally charges
him or her with a crime or crimes.
Below, are the steps in an Arizona criminal case:
1. The Arrest: An arrest can be made through an arrest warrant after probable cause has
been established that the suspect committed a crime. Or, an arrest can
be made when someone commits a crime in the presence of a law enforcement
officer. For example, someone commits
driving under the influence (DUI) in front of an officer and he or she is arrested during a routine
2. The Initial Appearance: After the arrest comes the “initial appearance.” During the
initial appearance, the judge informs the defendant of the charges against
him or her. The defendant is also advised of their right to remain silent
and their right to be represented by a criminal defense attorney.
3. The Preliminary Hearing: If there is a preliminary hearing, this is where the judge listens to
testimony from any witnesses called by the prosecution and the defense.
If the judge decides there is sufficient evidence indicating the defendant
likely committed a crime, an arraignment date will be scheduled and the
defendant will be held for trial.
4. The Arraignment: During the arraignment, the defendant enters their plea of either guilty,
not guilty or no contest. If the defendant pleads no contest or guilty,
the judge will schedule a date for sentencing. If the defendant pleads
not guilty, he or she has the right to a trial, which can be before a
judge or a jury.
According to the Arizona Judicial Branch, “In a criminal trial, the
prosecuting attorney presents evidence and testimony of witnesses to try
to prove the defendant committed the crime. The attorney for the defendant
may present evidence and witnesses to show that the defendant did not
commit the crime or to create a reasonable doubt as to the defendant’s
guilt. The defendant is considered innocent of the crime charged until
Once both sides are finished presenting their arguments, the foreman will
hand a written verdict to the judge. If the defendant is found not guilty
in the case, he or she will be released from custody at once. If the defendant
is found guilty, the judge will set a date for sentencing. If the defendant
so chooses, he or she can file an appeal with the Court of Appeals. All
death penalty cases are automatically appealed to the Supreme Court.
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