Criminal Justice Process
The criminal justice process can be a stressful and confusing place for people unfortunate enough to be exposed to it.
After police have investigated your case, they will either make an arrest, request an arrest warrant or submit the charges to the prosecutor for charging. The initial arrest is the first of the 8 steps in the criminal justice process and can often be one of the more stressful.
Following an arrest or a court summons, you will first have an initial appearance. This will be your first court appearance. If you were arrested or forced to self-surrender, this court appearance often takes place within the court located in the actual jail facility. At the initial appearance the judge will read your charges, appoint an attorney, set future court dates and set your release conditions.
Release conditions can range from an own recognizance release (OR) to a bond or often release to pretrial services. The court will also set out your future court hearings and explain your conditions of release if you are released OR or post bond. Examples of common conditions of release in felony cases often include:
- Not leaving the state without the court’s permission;
- Attending all court future court hearings;
- Not possessing a firearm;
- Not returning to the scene of the crime;
- Not having contact with any alleged victim; and
- Not having contact with any co-defendant.
In certain circumstances, an individual may not be eligible for release and must remain in jail as they await trial.
Probable Cause Finding: After your initial appearance, there will be a hearing to determine whether there is probable cause that you committed the offense charged. Probable cause is determined either by a grand jury or at a preliminary hearing before a judge or magistrate. This will result in either an indictment by a grand jury or an information signed by the court charging you with the offense.
One of the more confusing components in the criminal justice process is the preliminary hearing. Once you have had your initial appearance, the court will set a preliminary hearing. Preliminary hearings are often seen as a mini trial where the prosecutor will be forced to show a judge that there is enough evidence to charge you. Indictments can also be obtained by way of a grand jury indictment. In Arizona, preliminary hearings are often set but rarely happen. Instead, the court will set a preliminary hearing date and the prosecutor will seek a grand jury indictment by way of a supervening indictment.
Similar to the initial appearance, the arraignment hearing is the fourth of the 8 steps in a criminal case. A relatively simple hearing, the arraignment hearing is where you will either plead guilty or not guilty. If you plead guilty, the case will then be set for a sentencing hearing. If, however, you plead not guilty the judge will set future court dates including a pretrial conference and a date for a jury trial.
In felony cases, you will almost certainly plead not guilty and await disclosure of the evidence the State intends to use against you in their case. At the arraignment, the judge will set the case to a pretrial conference.
It’s often said that pretrial conferences are just that – a conference before trial. At a pretrial conference the parties will give an update to the court on issues that need to be addressed before the case can proceed to trial. At the pretrial, the parties will give the court status on discovery requests, the status of witness interviews and updates on plea negotiations. Pretrial conferences are often reset or “continued” which resets the case to a future pretrial date.
The most important step in the criminal justice process is the jury trial. At trial, the prosecution will present evidence of the charges against you. After each prosecution witness, you and your attorney will have the right to cross-examine the prosecution witnesses to question the reliability of their testimony or the soundness of the evidence.
After the prosecutor has presented the evidence they have against you to the jury, you will have the ability to present your defense evidence and witnesses to the jury, if you have any. After each side has finished presenting their evidence and arguments to the jury the jury will determine your guilt or innocence.
If a jury has found you guilty, or you have entered into a plea agreement, a judge will then sentence you and determine your punishment. If you were found guilty by a jury, then the judge will use the sentencing guidelines and applicable law in evaluating the maximum and minimum punishment. If instead, you entered a plea agreement, the judge will use the law and plea agreement in order to determine your sentence.
During the sentencing hearing, both the prosecution and the defense are allowed to make their recommendations and arguments to the judge as to what punishment each side recommends. Normally, the prosecution will present their recommendation to the judge first, followed by the defense. It is at this time you may address the court and ask for a reduced sentence. After both sides have given their recommendations, the judge will deliver the sentence. The sentencing hearing is often the last of the 8 steps in a criminal case as a criminal appeal is not always necessary.
After a guilty jury verdict or a guilty plea agreement, you can still contest the findings of your case. However, the request to exercise your right to appeal must be done within strict timelines.
After a guilty jury verdict or a guilty plea agreement, you will have statutory time period in which to appeal the findings. If a jury has found you guilty, you will have 20 days to file a notice of direct appeal for a felony matter and 14 days to file your notice of direct appeal for a misdemeanor matter.
If instead, you enter a plea agreement, you will have 90 days from the sentencing date in which to file your appeal for post conviction relief.
Criminal appeals address errors in your representation during and before trial, potential errors made by the judge in his or her ruling on motions and objections and any possible misconduct that may have been committed by the prosecution or jurors.
Phoenix Criminal Lawyers
No matter which of the 8 steps in the criminal justice process you find yourself in, the attorneys at Feldman & Royle can help. We have decades of combined experiencing representing clients charged with all manner of state and federal crimes from simple misdemeanors to serious felonies. We offer a free consultation to better explain the 8 steps in a criminal case and to talk about the ways that an experienced Phoenix criminal lawyer can help you to avoid a conviction.
Q: What is an arraignment?
A: The arraignment hearing is where you will either plead guilty or not guilty. If you plead guilty, the case will then be set for a sentencing hearing. If, however, you plead not guilty the judge will set future court dates including a pretrial conference and a date for a jury trial.
At the arraignment you should expect the following thing to happen:
- You will be told the exact charge(s) you are facing;
- You will be advised that you should have an attorney and if you cannot afford an attorney, a public defender will be appointed;
- You will be asked to enter a plea – either guilty or not guilty; and
- A pretrial conference court date will be set/
Q: What happens if you plead not guilty at an arraignment?
A: If you plead not guilty at an arraignment hearing, the case will simply be set to a pretrial conference. Neither the court nor the prosecutor will hold it against you, if you plead not guilty. In fact, almost certainly plead not guilty and await disclosure of the evidence the State intends to use against you in their case. Remember: it is not your obligation to plead guilty simply because you were arrested. Instead, it is the State’s burden to prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
A: What is a pretrial conference?
Q: A pretrial conference is exactly that – a conference before (pre) trial. At a pretrial conference the parties generally come before the court and give an update on where they are with the disclosure of the evidence the State plans to use at trial. It is not uncommon to see the pretrial conference reset to future pretrial conferences as the parties exchange evidence and attempt to resolve the case with a possible plea agreement.