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6 Steps in a Criminal Case

When someone breaks an Arizona State law and they are found guilty, the offense can be punished by fines, incarceration, victim restitution, community service, probation, driver license suspension and in the worst cases, by death.

In an Arizona criminal case, the state attorney (prosecutor) will formally accuse the defendant who allegedly committed the crime, and the case will process through the criminal court with jurisdiction (the authority to hear the case).

Criminal cases are broken down into six steps, beginning with the arrest:

  1. A suspect is arrested in two situations: 1) a law enforcement officer observes a crime, or 2) a judge has issued an arrest warrant for the suspect’s arrest. When someone is arrested in Arizona, he or she have to be brought before a judge for their initial appearance within 24 hours of the arrest, or the suspect has to be released.
  2. Next is the initial appearance. During this first appearance before a judge, the judge will inform the defendant of their charges and tell them that they have a right to remain silent and a right to a defense attorney. The judge will also set the defendant’s release conditions.
  3. If the defendant is charged with a felony offense, a preliminary hearing may be set, unless a grand jury indicted the defendant. If there is a preliminary hearing, the judge will hear evidence from the prosecutor and the defense. If the judge is convinced the defendant could have committed the crime, an arraignment is set.
  4. In addition to a judge, a grand jury can also determine that there’s probable cause. In that case, a grand jury will review the prosecutor’s evidence. At least nine members of the grand jury have to concur in order to return an indictment (a formal charge).
  5. Next comes an arraignment, where the defendant either pleads not guilty, guilty, or no contest. If a not guilty plea is entered by the defendant, the judge will set a trial date or a pretrial conference. On the other hand, if the defendant pleads guilty or if he or she pleads no contest, a sentencing date will be set by the judge.
  6. Defendants have the right to a trial by jury or before a judge for some misdemeanors and for all felony charges.

Another option is a plea bargain, which occurs in a large percentage of criminal cases. While either side can offer a plea bargain, only the accused has the power to decide if he or she will take a bargain. The benefits of a plea bargain can be huge and often a deal results in lesser charges, lighter penalties, and a lighter sentence, or all the above.

Suggested Reading: DNA Testing in Arizona Criminal Cases

Facing criminal charges in Phoenix or the surrounding areas? Contact our firm to meet with a Phoenix criminal defense attorney for a free case review.