Being charged with a crime in Arizona can lead to tough consequences. Whether it’s a class 3 misdemeanor or a high level felony, all criminal charges should be taken seriously. If you’ve been charged with a crime or suspect that you may be soon, now is the time to learn more about what happens when you’re facing criminal charges and how to ensure that you are justly represented. Read on to have your questions answered by the award-winning Arizona criminal defense attorneys at Lerner and Rowe Law Group.
What Does it Mean to Be Charged with a Crime?
There’s a big difference between being arrested and being charged with a crime. While you might be arrested if you’re suspected of committing a crime, a criminal charge means that law enforcement has filed a formal criminal citation initiating a criminal case (misdemeanors only) or a prosecutor has reviewed the evidence and believes it warrants the filing of formal allegation against you in an Arizona court of law. It doesn’t necessarily mean you will be convicted of a crime (remember, you are presumed innocent); however, it does mean that your arrest report or citation has been reviewed and a case against you will be pursued.
Can You Be Charged with a Crime Without Being Arrested?
It is possible to be charged with a crime without having necessarily been detained or arrested by a police officer. If you are alleged to have committed a petty crime or misdemeanor, for example, criminal charges may be filed without you being placed under arrest or held in custody by law enforcement. Instead of going to jail, the suspect is issued a citation. This written and signed citation stipulates that the suspect must appear in court on a specified date. Citations may be issued for minor crimes such as traffic offenses or shoplifting. You may also be sent a summons at a later date.
Who Decides Whether a Suspect Is Charged with a Crime?
Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t the victim of a crime who decides whether or not a suspect is charged with a crime in Arizona, nor is it decided by the police officers who arrest them. Instead, criminal charges are decided upon by a local prosecutor who reviews witness or victim testimony in addition to police reports and arrest records forwarded to them by law enforcement officers.
In deciding whether or not to charge someone with a crime, prosecutors will assess whether a crime was committed and if there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction. They may also weigh the suspect’s criminal history (or lack thereof). In part thanks to their prosecutorial discretion, a prosecutor can decide whether to reduce, increase, or drop the charges sought by police altogether.
In some cases, usually reserved for serious felony charges such as murder, an Arizona prosecutor will enlist the help of a grand jury at the county, state, or federal level to establish whether there is probable cause to criminally charge someone. Even if a grand jury declines to indict a suspect, however, prosecutors may still file a direct complaint if they believe there is enough evidence to do so. In addition, although a prosecutor may initially decline to press charges, they may do so at any time in the future (subject to applicable statutes of limitation) if more evidence comes to light.
What Happens After the Prosecutor Files Charges?
If a prosecutor or grand jury decides to press criminal charges, the next step depends on whether the charge is a misdemeanor or a felony and the age of the defendant. Misdemeanors are generally handled by justice, city, or municipal prosecutors, and most criminal charges against minors are sent to the juvenile court system.
If You’re Charged with a Misdemeanor
Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies, and may include charges such as assault, petty theft, disorderly conduct, or a first-time DUI. If you’re arrested and booked into jail (for misdemeanor this most often happens for a domestic violence offense) the next step is usually an Initial Appearance. For misdemeanors, the initial appearance is often combined with the arraignment. The Initial Appearance must take place within 24 hours of being charged and serves as a defendant’s first contact with a judge. If you’re not already in custody, an arrest warrant may be issued against you, or you may receive a criminal summons.
The next step in the criminal court process is the arraignment. During the arraignment, the charges against you will be spelled out, the judge will explain the minimum and maximum sentencing if you are convicted, the conditions of your release will be set (either on your own recognizance, to pretrial services, or via bail), and you or your attorney will have the chance to enter a plea. From there, you’ll move on to pre-trial conference, evidentiary hearings, and eventually trial and sentencing.
If You’re Charged with a Felony
If you’ve been charged with a felony and are not already in police custody, you may receive a criminal summons or the court may issue an arrest warrant. If you’re already in custody, you’ll be taken before a judge for an initial appearance within 24 hours of being charged.
Four important things will happen at an initial appearance. Firstly, the defendant is formally informed of the felony charges against them. Then, you are advised of your right to legal counsel, whether that be a criminal defense attorney or public defender. Thirdly, the conditions of your release are established by the court.
If you’re accused of a less serious or non-violent felony, you may be released on your own recognizance or to supervised release. However, if the crime is serious or you have a criminal record or a history of missing court appearances, you may be put in jail or released only after posting a cash bond. Finally, a date will be set for a status conference and a preliminary hearing. The process then moves forward to arraignment, pre-trial actions and hearings, a plea agreement or trial, and sentencing.
What to Do If You Are Charged with a Crime in Arizona
If you’ve been charged with a crime in Arizona, time is of the essence. Contacting an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible can mean the difference between a conviction and reduced or dropped charges. At Lerner and Rowe Law Group, your initial consultation is always free and confidential. Our exemplary legal team will review the details of your case at no charge, and with no obligation to hire us.
Contact one of our Arizona offices today 24/7 by calling 602-667-7777 (Phoenix) or 520-620-6200 (Tucson). We offer affordable payment plans to make getting the legal help you need more accessible. You can also connect with us online via LiveChat, or submit your case details for a confidential review by filling out this form.