In Arizona, criminal proceedings follow a set order of events. Knowing what happens and when can help you understand the criminal justice system and where your case is heading.
The first step in all criminal cases is the police investigation, where police officers gather evidence that you committed a crime. Importantly, this investigation stage can last years, in the case of some complex white collar crimes, or mere minutes, in the case of driving under the influence (DUI).
Arrest and Booking
Once police have enough evidence to support further action, they'll make the arrest and bring you to the police station, where you will be fingerprinted and photographed in the booking process.
Soon after the arrest, there will be a court hearing with a judge or magistrate called the arraignment. There, the judge will inform you of the charges against you, set the terms and conditions of your pre-trial release, and set a date for the preliminary hearing, if applicable. You'll also be appointed a public defender if you need one. At the arraignment, you'll be asked whether you mean to plead guilty or not guilty.
In the case of felony criminal charges, though, there's an additional hearing between the booking and the arraignment called the preliminary hearing. There, the prosecution has to show probable cause that you committed the crime you're being charged with. Whether to exercise your right to the preliminary hearing is a complex issue, and depends on the facts of your particular case.
There could be months between the arraignment and your trial. During this time, the prosecution and your defense attorney will gather evidence in your case that makes it seem more or less likely that you committed the crime, which is often the basis for plea bargaining. Plea bargains usually involve pleading guilty to less severe crimes than the one you're being charged with, resulting in lighter punishments. In Arizona, the vast majority of criminal charges are resolved through plea bargaining.
If a resolution cannot be reached before the trial date, then your case will go to trial. Real-life criminal trials look much like they do on TV shows like Law and Order, with the prosecution presenting their evidence that you committed the crime and then the defense raising reasonable doubts.
If the jury finds you not-guilty, you'll be released. However, if you get convicted, the process continues into the sentencing portion of the trial.
Sentencing and Other Post-Trial Procedures
If the jury finds you guilty of the crimes you're being charged with, your case will proceed to the sentencing portion of the trial. There, the prosecution urges the judge to levy a heavy penalty, while your defense attorney points out all the reasons for a lighter sentence. After weighing the arguments, the judge will issue the sentence.
Finally, you have the opportunity to appeal your case if the court seems to have made a mistake or there was other wrongdoing during your case.
Arizona Criminal Defense Attorney Shawn Hamp
Throughout this entire process, your criminal defense attorney is your best friend and most vigilant fighter. Call the law office of Shawn Hamp at (866) 490-HAMP or contact him online for the legal defense you need.