Being charged with a felony, whether murder, sex crime, DUI or another crime, can be daunting for anyone. Depending on the severity of the crime, the legal process for felonious charges can be long and harrowing. In order to prepare for your defense, it’s important to know what lies ahead. If you’ve been charged with a felony in Arizona, you can expect for your case to go through the following stages:
If the suspect is arrested and booked, he or she will be taken into custody until the initial appearance before a judge within 24 hours of the arrest. If cited, the suspect will be summoned to appear before a judge on a certain date.
During the initial appearance, the defendant appears before a judge for the first time. The judge then decides the conditions for the defendant’s release until the next court date. The release will depend on several factors, including the severity of the crime, the defendant’s criminal record and the defendant’s flight risk. At this time, the judge will also set a date for the preliminary hearing in which it will be determined whether or not there is probable cause to bind the defendant over for trial.
At the preliminary hearing (also known as a probable cause hearing), the prosecution must establish probable cause against the defendant before a judge to justify going to trial. At this time, the defense can cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses. If the state chooses to vacate the preliminary hearing, they can instead go to a grand jury to establish probable cause. A true bill may be obtained by the State which would then lead the defendant to an arraignment.
During these proceedings, the judge reads the charges against the defendant; asks the accused if he or she has retained an attorney or would like the court to appoint one; and sets the schedule for future court appearances. At this time, the accused is also asked to enter a plea (in most felony cases, this plea will be “not guilty.”)
In some cases, the defense will be able to negotiate a lesser punishment with the prosecution by pleading guilty to a crime. This may mean reduced or dropped charges or a recommendation of more lenient sentencing.
About every 30 days, the judge will meet with the defense and prosecution to make sure all discovery items have been turned over to the court. In most felony cases, there will be three or four pre-trial conferences before the trial. The pre-trial conference is also where the prosecution and defense plea bargain negotiations are held and the defense can file motions, including the motion to dismiss, the motion to suppress evidence and the motion to force witnesses to appear and give testimony.
Jury or Bench Trial
In a jury trial, 8 or 12 of the defendant’s peers will review evidence and determine if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. In order to be considered guilty of a charge beyond a reasonable doubt, the state must prove that the defendant is guilty of each and every element of the charge. A jury that cannot reach a unanimous decision is considered a hung jury. In the case of a hung jury, the state can amend the plea agreement, retry the defendant with a different jury or move to dismiss charges. In a bench trial, a judge will simply review evidence and decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.
Within 30 days of a guilty verdict or plea, the defendant will appear before a judge for sentencing in which a judge will determine the proper disposition of the case. The defense can make a motion for a mitigation hearing, a hearing to negotiate a lesser punishment.
No matter what the criminal charge, aggressive legal representation is in order. As a former Maricopa County prosecutor and experienced criminal lawyer, Josh Blumenreich can help prepare you for every step of the legal process. Contact The Blumenreich Law Firm today for a free initial consultation.