I Have Been Charged With a Misdemeanor, Now What? (Step 3, Change of Plea)
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?"
3. Change of Plea Hearing.
At some point, the court needs to make a determination of guilt or innocence. The State has the burden of proof and must prove the defendant guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. The State, as represented by the prosecutor, will offer a defendant a plea deal; or will conduct a trial, empowering the court or jury to make this determination.
Change of Plea
If the defendant decides to accept the State's plea offer, then a change of plea hearing is conducted. Sentencing is usually conducted at the same time after the change of plea. This results in the quickest resolution for the most criminal case.
At the change of plea hearing, the judge must make a determination that the defendant is changing their plea knowingly, intelligently, and voluntary. Rule 17.2, Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure. This procedure is called a “change of plea soliloquy”. The defendant is given a written plea agreement prior to the hearing. Just like the arraignment is conducted, the judge must again advise the defendant of their constitutional rights. The judge confirms, through a series of questions, that the defendant read the plea agreement, understands it, is entering the plea agreement under their free will and is not being threatened or coerced into accepting the terms of the plea agreement.
The judge will then ask the defendant if they want to accept the plea agreement and will ask the defendant for their plea. The defendant will then formally change their plea and respond “Guilty”.
A plea agreement is really a third-party agreement. A prosecutor may make an offer to settle the criminal case, a defendant may accept that offer, but ultimately a judge must approve it. After accepting the guilty plea, the judge will then ask the prosecutor what the “factual basis” is for the plea agreement. The “factual basis” is a summation of the evidence of the crime committed. This is usually the first time that a judge will be given the information about the facts in the case. At this point, the judge is determining whether there is a basis for the plea agreement and then ultimately whether the sentencing limitations of it are appropriate. The judge will then “accept and enter” the plea agreement on the record and proceed to sentencing.