I Have Been Charged With a Misdemeanor, Now What? (Step 1, The Initial Appearance)
If you have been given a citation, arrested, or served with a summons for a misdemeanor offense, you probably want to know what is going to happen next. If you have never been charged with a crime it is totally understandable to be confused and concerned about the immediate consequences, and if you have been through “the system” before, understanding the rules and procedures of a misdemeanor case will enable you to properly exercise your rights. These articles were written to highlight and explain the procedure through which misdemeanor cases are processed in the limited jurisdiction courts.
“I Have Been Charged With a Misdemeanor, Now What?“
1. Initial Appearance.
Initial Appearance / Arraignment
The first hearing in a misdemeanor case is the initial appearance or arraignment hearing. The initial appearance must be conducted within 24 hours of being taken into custody. Typically, you are arrested on a misdemeanor charge, especially in domestic violence or DUI cases as they legally require that an arrest take place. If you are given a citation by a police officer or served with a summons, then the initial appearance and arraignment will be held on a later scheduled date.
If it is a hardship for the defendant to appear in court and the case does not involve domestic violence, a victim, or DUI; then a defendant can waive their presence at an arraignment and enter a not guilty plea by mail. Rule 17.1, Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure. One advantage to hiring a criminal lawyer is having this pleading and the not guilty plea filed on the client's behalf.
The justice of the peace or magistrate will outline your charges during the initial appearance phase of the hearing. The minimum and maximum sentence range for the offense will be explained to the defendant. Release conditions are then set. Usually the judge will release a defendant on their Own Recognizance (OR) when they appear voluntarily for a summons or citation. If being held in custody, the judge will release the defendant OR or set bail/bond for the defendant's release.
During the arraignment portion of the hearing the judge will take the defendant's plea. A suspect is first advised that they are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, of their right to remain silent, of their right to an attorney, and of their right to a trial (either a trial by judge or jury). The defendant is then asked how they will plea – guilty or not guilty. The plea is then entered with a not guilty defendant being appointed a public defender if they cannot afford an attorney. If the defendant pleads guilty (not generally advisable), the Court will go straight to sentencing.