The Court System

You may have several court hearings before your case is resolved. It is extremely important that you appear for all of your hearings. If you do not appear, a warrant for your arrest may be issued. If you have an emergency and must be late for or miss a hearing, call your attorney right away. The telephone number for the Public Defender’s Office is 520-866-7199.

Dress nicely when you come to court. You do not need to wear a suit, but please do not wear shorts or a sleeveless shirt. Do not wear anything that advertises alcohol, drugs, or nudity. Do not wear gang symbols or colors. Do not wear short skirts or anything revealing. Make sure your chest and stomach are covered. Call the judge “Sir,” “Ma’am,” or “Your Honor” if you speak during a hearing.

 Felonies

Initial Appearance
If you are arrested and taken to the jail, your first hearing will be an initial appearance. Your initial appearance will be held at the jail. The judge will inform you of the charges against you, set your release conditions, set a date for a preliminary hearing, and appoint an attorney if you cannot afford to hire one. Usually, the judge appoints the Public Defender’s Office and the elected Public Defender assigns the case to an attorney who works in her office. If the Public Defender’s Office has a conflict of interest, a private attorney will be appointed at no cost to you.

Release Conditions
Your release conditions will be set at your initial appearance. Your attorney may file a motion asking the Court to change your release conditions later in your case.

There are 6 common types of pre-trial release:

  • Own Recognizance or OR: You may be released on your own signature and promise to appear.
  • Third Party: You may be released to a third party custodian. That person must inform the Court if you violate any of your release conditions. That includes committing a new crime, leaving the state, using drugs, missing court, contacting someone you are not allowed to contact, etc. If a third party custodian does not inform the Court that you violated your release conditions, he or she can be ordered to pay a fine or even sent to jail.
  • Pre-Trial Services: You may be released under the supervision of Pre-Trial Services. This is like being on probation while your case is pending. You must report to a probation officer regularly. You may be tested for drugs or alcohol.
  • Secured Bond: If the judge sets a secured bond, you will remain in the jail until the bond is posted or your case is resolved. A secured bond can be posted with money or a piece of property worth at least as much as the bond amount. Bond can be posted at the jail with a cashier’s check or money order. It can be posted at the Pinal County Superior Court Clerk’s Office with title to a piece of property. You can also use a bail bondsman. A bail bondsman will usually require 10% of the bond amount in cash and title to a piece of property. If you post bond through the jail or the Clerk’s Office and you follow all of your release conditions, the money and/or title will be returned when your case is resolved. A bail bondsman will usually keep the 10% but return the title when your case is resolved. If you violate your release conditions, the Court or bail bondsman may keep your money or title.
  • Cash–Only Bond: If the judge sets a cash-only bond, you will remain in the jail until the bond is posted or your case is resolved. A cash-only bond can only be posted with a cashier’s check or money order. It cannot be posted with title to property. If you post bond and you follow all of your release conditions, the money will be returned when your case is resolved. If you violate your release conditions, the Court may keep your money.
  • No Bond: In certain situations, you may be held without bond.  If you are held without bond, you will remain in the jail until your case is resolved.

The judge may place other conditions on your release, such as no alcohol, no contact with the alleged victim, no weapons, etc. If you do not follow these release conditions, or if you miss a court hearing, a warrant for your arrest may be issued. You may lose any bond that was posted.

Preliminary Hearing
In every felony case, there must be a finding of probable cause. There are two ways for the prosecutor to establish probable cause: through a preliminary hearing or by presenting the case to the Grand Jury for indictment. In Pinal County, the County Attorney’s Office presents all felony cases to the Grand Jury. That means your preliminary hearing will almost certainly be vacated or cancelled. If you are out of custody, please call the Public Defender’s Office on the day before your preliminary hearing to make sure it was cancelled. The telephone number is 520-866-7199.

Grand Jury
If the County Attorney’s Office decides to charge you with a felony, a prosecutor will present the case to the Grand Jury. This does not have to happen right away. It may happen months or even years after the crime was allegedly committed. The Grand Jury is a group of citizens called for grand jury duty. The prosecutor presents his or her evidence to the Grand Jury, usually through the testimony of a police officer. The hearing is secret. The defendant is not present and neither is his or her attorney. If the Grand Jury finds that there is probable cause to believe you committed the crime, it will issue an indictment. An indictment is the official document charging you with a crime. If you are out of custody, the Grand Jury may issue a summons for you to appear at an arraignment or it may issue a warrant for your arrest.

Arraignment
If you are indicted, your case will be set for an arraignment. If you are out of custody and receive a summons telling you to appear for an arraignment, you must attend this hearing. If you do not appear, a warrant for your arrest may be issued. Arraignments are held at the Pinal County Superior Court in Florence, Arizona. For directions, click here.

At your arraignment, the judge will inform you of the charges against you, enter a not guilty plea on your behalf, appoint an attorney if you do not already have one and cannot afford to hire one, assign your case to a judge, and set your next hearing. The judge may set release conditions if they have not already been set.

Pre-Trial Conference
In most cases, the next hearing after the arraignment is a pre-trial conference. This is usually about four weeks after the arraignment and is basically a check-in with your assigned judge. Your attorney may ask for another pre-trial conference, set the case for trial, or set it for a change of plea.

Change of Plea/Trial Setting
In some cases, the hearing after the arraignment is a change of plea/trial setting. This is usually about four weeks after the arraignment. In other cases, a change of plea/trial setting will be set if and when you decide to accept a plea agreement. At a change of plea/trial setting, you will enter into a plea agreement or your attorney will set your case for trial. Your attorney may also ask for a continuance and your case will be set for another change of plea/trial setting or pre-trial conference.

Plea Agreement
Most cases never go trial, but instead are resolved by plea agreement. A plea agreement is an agreement between you and the prosecutor. Typically, a plea agreement promises you a better sentence than you would get if you went to trial and lost. For example, a plea agreement may dismiss a more serious charge if you plead guilty to a less serious charge, or it may make you eligible for probation even though you would get a prison sentence if you lost at trial.

The decision to enter into a plea agreement is entirely up to you. By pleading guilty you give up several rights, including your right to a trial. It is important to review the entire plea agreement with your attorney before you accept it. If you have any questions about the plea agreement, be sure to discuss them with your attorney.

Trial
If your case goes to trial, the prosecutor will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the crime you are charged with committing. Felony trials are almost always decided by a jury, but can be decided by a judge if you waive your right to a jury trial. At your trial, the prosecutor will present evidence and witnesses against you. Your attorney will have an opportunity to cross-examine the prosecutor’s witnesses and to present evidence and witnesses on your behalf. You will decide whether or not to testify at your trial. You should discuss this with your attorney before making a decision. At the end of the trial, the jury must decide unanimously that you are guilty or not guilty. If the jury cannot make a unanimous decision, the case can be re-tried in front of a different jury.

Pre-Sentence Interview
If you are convicted, at trial or because you entered into a plea agreement, the judge will likely order a pre-sentence report. A probation officer will read the police reports, look at your criminal history, interview you, talk to the victim if there is one, and write a report about you for the judge to use at sentencing. The judge will rely on that report when he or she sentences you, so your interview is very important.

Do not miss your interview. Be there on time. If you are running late, call the Adult Probation Department and let someone know. Dress nicely. Be respectful. If your attorney has given you any advice about the interview, be sure to follow it.

Sentencing
If you enter into a plea agreement or are convicted at trial, you will have a sentencing hearing approximately four weeks later. Most defendants are sentenced at their sentencing hearings. Your attorney and the prosecutor may make brief statements to the Court. You will also have an opportunity to speak if you want to. You may be placed on probation or you may be ordered to serve a prison sentence. If you are placed on probation, you may be ordered to serve up to 12 months in jail as a condition of probation. Please see the About Probation section for more information about probation.

Aggravation/Mitigation Hearing
Some cases are set for aggravation/mitigation hearings, or pre-sentence/sentencing hearings. An aggravation/mitigation hearing is set if your attorney or the prosecutor wants to argue to the judge for a certain sentence or wants to present witnesses before the judge sentences you. Your attorney may call your friends or family members to testify on your behalf. You will also have an opportunity to speak if you want to. You will be sentenced at the end of the hearing.

Petition to Revoke Probation
If you are on probation and your probation officer believes that you violated the terms of your probation, he or she will file a Petition to Revoke Probation. A warrant for your arrest will almost certainly be issued. Once you are arrested on the Petition, you will have an initial appearance/arraignment. At that hearing, you will be told what violations of probation your probation officer is alleging. The Court will enter a denial on your behalf, appoint an attorney if you can not afford to hire one, and set a violation hearing approximately two weeks later. The Court will also set release conditions. Most people are held without bond.

If, after speaking with your attorney, you decide to admit to violating probation, you will do that at either a violation hearing or an admission hearing. Otherwise, a contested violation hearing will be set. At that hearing, the prosecutor will present evidence and witnesses against you. Your attorney will have an opportunity to cross-examine the prosecutor’s witnesses and to present evidence and witnesses on your behalf. You will decide whether or not to testify at your hearing. You should discuss this with your attorney before making a decision. At the end of the hearing, the judge will decide whether you violated your probation. The prosecutor does not have to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt. He or she need only prove it by a preponderance of the evidence, which means he or she need only prove that it is more likely than not that you violated probation.

If you are found to have violated probation, either by entering an admission or after a hearing, your case will be set for a disposition hearing. This is a sentencing hearing on a probation violation. That hearing is usually two weeks after your admission or contested violation hearing. At that hearing, you could be placed back on probation or sentenced to prison.

Appeal & Post-Conviction Relief
If you are convicted at trial and sentenced, you can file an appeal. A Notice of Appeal must be filed in the Pinal County Superior Court within 20 days after you are sentenced. If you want to file an appeal or have questions about filing an appeal, you should talk to your attorney.

If you accept a plea agreement, you cannot file a direct appeal. However, you can file a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, sometimes called a Rule 32. If you want to file a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, you must file it with the Pinal County Superior Court within 90 days after you are sentenced. The same judge who sentenced you will decide the case. If you lose, you can ask the Court of Appeals to look at your case, but the Court of Appeals is not required to do so. If you win, you will be allowed to withdraw from your plea agreement, but the original charges will not go away.

 Misdemeanors

The procedure for misdemeanors is a little different. If you are arrested, you will have an initial appearance as described above. The judge will set release conditions as described above. However, you will not have a preliminary hearing and your case will not be presented to the Grand Jury. Instead, a prosecutor will review the police reports and any other evidence and then file a complaint charging you with a crime.

Your next hearing will be an arraignment. That hearing will be at a justice court. If you receive a summons telling you to appear for an arraignment, it very important that you attend that hearing. If you do not appear, a warrant for your arrest may be issued. At the arraignment, the judge will enter a not guilty plea on your behalf and an attorney will be appointed to represent you if you qualify for an attorney and cannot afford to hire one. You will be asked to provide information about your finances. Based on that information, the judge may order you to pay the County part of the cost of having an attorney represent you.

Your next hearing will be a pre-trial conference. At that hearing, you will meet with your attorney to discuss your case. You may decide to enter into a plea agreement that day. You may decide to set the case for trial or your attorney may ask for another pre-trial conference a few weeks later. If you enter into a plea agreement, you will probably be sentenced that day. You may receive probation or you may be ordered to serve a jail sentence. You cannot be sent to prison for a misdemeanor.

If your case goes to trial, it may be decided by a jury or by a judge. The prosecutor will present evidence and witnesses against you. Your attorney will have an opportunity to cross-examine the prosecutor’s witnesses and to present evidence and witnesses on your behalf. You will decide whether or not to testify at your trial. The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the crime you are charged with committing. If there is a jury, their decision must be unanimous. If you are found guilty at trial, you may be sentenced the same day or you may have a sentencing hearing a few weeks later.