Processing Arizona Criminal Defendants

All states follow similar procedures when someone is accused of a crime, but each state handles a few details differently. Here's a look at what happens if you're accused of a crime in Arizona.


People in Arizona can be arrested when an officer has "probable cause" "or a good reason" to believe that they committed a crime. Sometimes the officer gathers evidence and gets an arrest warrant. If an officer witnesses a crime being committed, a warrant isn't required. Officers must inform people immediately that they have the right to refuse to talk to investigators and the right to an attorney. Both are guaranteed under the Constitution. Officers who fail to issue this Miranda warning risk having the case thrown out. After arrest, the accused is booked into jail. This process includes a medical assessment. Personal items are taken and suspects are photographed and fingerprinted. Officials check to see if the accused has any criminal history.

Setting Bail

Within 24 hours of arrest, suspects make their initial appearances in court. A judge or magistrate appoints an attorney if the accused doesn't have one or can't afford one, then sets bail. The amount can range from nothing to millions of dollars, depending on the severity of the alleged crime and the defendant's criminal history.


Within 10 to 20 days of a felony arrest, the prosecutor has to decide how to proceed with the case. He can drop the charges or present evidence to a judge in a public preliminary hearing or to a grand jury. Grand jury proceedings are private. If the judge or the grand jury find probable cause to believe the defendant committed a crime, the accused will be arraigned. At an arraignment, the defendant can plead guilty, not guilty or mute, meaning that he's not answering the charges. Arraignment can be at the same time as the initial appearance if there's no preliminary hearing, or in a misdemeanor case.

Preliminary Hearing vs. Grand Jury

Preliminary hearings are rare in Arizona. Prosecutors usually seek private grand jury indictments instead because this allows them to prevent defense attorneys from hearing their cases before trial. Judges can dismiss charges after a preliminary hearing, but that's rare as well.

Plea Bargaining

Most criminal cases are resolved through a plea agreement. The defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest to a lesser crime or in exchange for the recommendation of a lesser sentence. Judges usually abide by sentencing agreements.

Trial and Sentencing

In Arizona, people are entitled to a jury trial in front of six to 12 people selected to hear the evidence and to decide if that person is guilty. Trials can also be held before judges alone, and that's usually what happens with misdemeanors. At trial, both the prosecution and the defense present evidence, then the jury decides a verdict. The verdict must be unanimous. If the jury can't agree, the case can be tried again before a different panel. With misdemeanors, if the defendant is found guilty, sentencing will be that day. Felony sentencing hearings usually take place 30 to 40 days after the verdict. Again, both sides have a chance to present their cases. The judge then will decide the sentence.

Get Legal Help

Contact a criminal attorney as soon as possible if you're suspected of a crime. A defense attorney will explain your legal options and help you make the best decisions for your case.

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