The court process in Arizona can be confusing and feels grueling. If you’ve been charged with a crime, the first thing you’re probably wondering is “what now?” What happens after I’ve been charged with a crime in Arizona? Allow me to try and take some of the mystery out of the legal process.

If you’ve been charged with a crime, or think you’re about to, the first thing you should do is contact an attorney. The earlier an attorney is involved in your defense, the better. For example, I’ve been able to stop charges before they’re even filed. We can work with police to show your innocence before getting involved in a legal battle. This type of work is called pre-file litigation and it can save money, time, and stress. If you have the option to hire an attorney before being charged with a crime, that’s a great decision. Unfortunately, most people don’t contact an attorney until after they’ve been charged or they don’t have the option to do so.

Once you’ve been charged with a crime, the very next step in the legal process is called an initial appearance or arraignment depending on which court you’ve been cited into. At the initial appearance you you’re told what the charges are and then release conditions are set. Release conditions can include any of the following options:

  1. Bail
  2. Pretrial Service release
  3. Release on your own recognizance
  4. Detention without bond

After arraignment, the court will set a pretrial conference. Every court has its own name for this type of conference but the purpose is the same: It’s the time for prosecution and defense counsel to meet and exchange discovery (evidence). If the discovery process is not complete, I’ll demand that specific items of evidence be provided to me. This is also the time where counsel for both sides will negotiate the case further. Often these conferences will be continued until negotiations are at an end, a plea resolution is reached, or the legal issues are finally resolved.

If a negotiation is struck between you and the government, this is called a plea bargain. If you accept the government’s offer, a change of plea hearing is set. This is time where the court will review the plea with you to make sure you understand all of its provisions. Once the plea is accepted, a sentencing hearing is set. If negotiations fall through, then the case is set for trial. If you win your trial, your case is over. But if you lose, then a sentencing hearing is also set. This is the same hearing that’s set if you took the plea bargain only, this time, you would not have whatever benefit your plea agreement provided. Instead, you would be sentenced according the Arizona sentencing chart.

At a sentencing hearing, arguments are made by both sides what the punishment should be and why. If there is a stipulated plea agreement, then the court will follow the stipulations in the plea agreement unless the court decides to reject the agreement for being too harsh or too lenient (extremely rare). Sometimes plea agreements lay out exactly what the sentence will be but, usually, there’s a range of possibilities that the court can do. If so, the sentencing hearing is your opportunity to present evidence why your sentence should be more lenient (mitigation). This is also the time where the prosecutor will try and present evidence why your sentence should be harsher (aggravation).

Although this a very simplistic description of the process, it at least gives you the skeletal outline of what happens in each and every criminal case in Arizona. I will add details to each subject and include a link so we can examine each phase of the process more fully.