If I Get Arrested in Arizona, What Happens in Court?

If you are arrested in Arizona, you will face a court proceeding to determine if you are guilty or not guilty and what your punishment, if any, will be.  You may feel confused and overwhelmed by the process and what to expect at each step.

Arrest: Most people are released after they are processed by the police at the police station or in a mobile DUI unit.  You will receive paperwork that informs you of your charges and your date for your arraignment.   You will most likely be ordered to appear at the city court where you were arrested.  Do not confuse this with justice court, which is where other traffic violation cases are decided.

Arraignment: Your arraignment is your first court appearance.  It usually occurs within 30 days of your arrest.  You will be formally informed of the charges against you and you will be asked to enter a plea of “not guilty,” “guilty,” or “no contest.”  Except in rare circumstances, you should plead “not guilty.”  If you do not say anything, a plea of “not guilty” will be entered upon your behalf.  You will be informed of your right to an attorney, your right to remain silent, and whether you are eligible for a court-appointed attorney.   You will also be given the date for your pretrial conference.

Pre-trial Conference: Your pre-trial conference will occur within 45 days of your arraignment.  Here, your attorney will negotiate with the prosecutor to see if the State can offer you a plea bargain.  Your attorney will discuss the offer with you and whether you should take it.  If you take the plea agreement, you may plead guilty to a lesser charge and accept the consequences of that plea.  If you don’t come to an agreement, your case will go to trial.

Pre-trial Motions and Hearings: Your attorney will file pre-trial motions and attend pre-trial hearings in an attempt to keep certain pieces of evidence from being used against you at trial.  These motions must be submitted at least 20 days before trial and the prosecutor will have 10 days to respond.  These motions and hearings may result in the charges being dismissed.

Trial: If your case gets to trial, your case will be heard by a judge and a jury, and the jury will decide if you are guilty or not guilty.  If you opt for a bench trial, you case will be decided by the judge.  For most people, it’s best to have your case decided by the jury.  At your trial, your attorney and the prosecution will select the jury, present opening statements, question witnesses on the stand, and end with their closing arguments.  The prosecution has the burden of proving that you are guilty.  You are not required to testify on your behalf.

Sentencing: If you are found guilty, you will face a sentence that may include jail time, fines, or probation.  It also may include community service, drug and alcohol treatment, and an impounded vehicle.  You may be sentenced at your trial or at a sentencing hearing that will occur within 30 days.

Appeal: If you feel you were unjustly convicted, you may appeal the conviction.