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Legal Lingo: Explaining the Legal Process for Criminal Charges

With this article, we’ll break down the legal process that’s typically followed in prosecuting someone in Arizona with criminal charges. Because the legal process can easily be confusing and intimidating for those involved, this entry is intended as an education resource to relieve any anxiousness.

  1. Committing the crime. In the eyes of the law, there are two types of crimes: misdemeanors and felonies.

A misdemeanor is typically handled in the lower courts and is punishable by up to a year in county jail. Felony cases, which can result in punishments of a year or more in state prison, will begin in the lower courts. If a judge rules that there is probable cause that the defendant – the person accused of committing the crime – actually did so, the case will be moved over to Superior Court.

  1. Investigation before the arrest. Before charges are filed, police will investigate the case to gather evidence. If the defendant has already hired an attorney for representation, the lawyer can work to:
  • Prevent charges from being filed
  • Provide help with surrendering to law enforcement
  • Reduce charges
  1. Making the arrest. In order to make a felony arrest, law enforcement must have probable cause – or good reason – to go through with making the arrest.

For misdemeanors, police can make arrests with a warrant or can arrest for crimes that occur in their presence.

  1. Booking into jail. All who have been arrested on felony charges are required to appear at the police station for booking. During this time, the defendant is:
  • Asked a series of routine questions
  • Searched with or without consent
  • Photographed and fingerprinted
  1. The decision to charge. Contrary to popular belief, the police do not file the actual charges. If there’s enough evidence against the defendant, a criminal charge will be filed by a county or city attorney or the probation department.
  2. Filing the complaint against the defendant. A complaint, which describes the charges against the defendant, will be filed by the prosecuting attorney.
  3. First appearance before a judge. Often referred to as an “arraignment”, this is where the defendant is read their rights and the charges facing them. It’s during this time that bail is set. Determined by the seriousness of the charges, bail can be as little as $0 if the defendant is released on their own recognizance. Likewise, bail can be increased by the judge if he/she feels the defendant will not appear in court again.
  4. Preliminary hearing and the filing of the indictment. While the preliminary hearing can be waived, they are necessary for the judge to determine the sufficiency of the evidence and whether or not it can support the charges.

If it’s determined there is enough evidence, the prosecuting attorney will file a document with the Superior Court that in essence the State is indeed charging the defendant with a crime.

  1. Arraignment on the indictment. Appearing before the Superior Court, the defendant is made aware of the charges and is given the opportunity to plead guilty, not guilty or no contest.

Bail will also be reviewed, and raised or lowered depending on the Court’s decision.

  1. Pre-trial conference; negotiation begins. Here, the criminal defense lawyer and the prosecuting attorney negotiate to reach the best possible deal for both parties.
  2. The trial. After a jury has been selected, both attorneys will present their sides in this process:
  • Opening statements
  • Direct witness examination
  • Cross examination
  • Closing arguments
  1. The sentencing. This is a separate court hearing during which the judge determines the punishment. Possible outcomes include probation, jail time or community service.
  2. Appealing the outcome. If there is a conviction, an appeal can be filed by the defendant or the criminal defense attorney. The goal is to make sure there were no legal errors in the original trial process.

Facing Criminal Charges? Call The Oswalt Law Group As you can tell, there is indeed a process in place for all charges. The process is a lengthy one and must be navigated expertly. Because of this, relying upon a criminal defense attorney for representation is your best bet for having charges reduced or being thrown out altogether. If you’re facing charges, call The Oswalt Law Group for a free consultation. Our number is (602) 225-2222.        

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