Felony Case Progression in Pinal County Superior Court
If you have been arrested in Casa Grande, San Tan Valley, Florence, Apache Junction, the City of Maricopa, Town of Superior, or any other city/town in Pinal County, you may be wondering what to expect going forward. If you were arrested and told that you are being charged with a felony crime, your case will likely end up in the Pinal County Superior Court, if you were arrested by a state agency – whether it was Casa Grande Police, Maricopa Police, Florence Police, Apache Junction Police, Pinal County Sheriff's Office, Arizona Department of Public Safety, or any other city/town police agency. This Firm has significant experience in handling all types of felony crimes, including (but not limited to) – Aggravated Assault, Aggravated DUI, Disorderly Conduct, Drug Crimes, Probation Violations, Theft, Weapons Violations, Fraud, Forgery, Domestic Violence, Homicide, 1st Degree Murder and many other felony offenses. Mr. Buckallew is aBoard Certified Criminal/DUI Defense Attorney (certified by the State Bar of Arizona). Contact the Firm today for a free evaluation of your case.
Felony Criminal Investigation
Once a felony investigation concludes and an arrest is made, you will either be released and wait for a summons to be mailed to you with a court date or you will be taken into custody where you will appear before a Judge within 24 hours in order to establish release conditions. The Judge may release you on your own recognizance (OR) with a promise to appear at future court hearings, release you under the supervision of Pre-Trial Services with a possible electronic monitoring bracelet, set a bond which must be posted for your release, or hold you non-bondable. To better understand the various types of release and to determine whether you can challenge the Court's determination of release conditions, it is advisable to seek legal advice from a competent and experienced Criminal Defense Attorney.
Formal Charging Procedure
Formal felony charges are issued by the Pinal County Attorney's either by complaint or indictment. They can file a felony complaint with the Pinal County Superior Court, indicating which crimes were allegedly committed and present evidence/witnesses to the Judge during the Preliminary Hearing to determine if there is probable cause to believe that those crimes were committed. Alternatively, the government can present their evidence/witnesses to a Grand Jury and then the Grand Jury will determine whether there is probable cause to return an indictment (or formal charge).
Grand Jury Indictment
If a Grand Jury returns an indictment, a warrant will be issued for the person's arrest (if it is believed the person will not voluntarily appear), or alternatively, a summons will be mailed, notifying the person of the charges and informing him/or of the date to appear in court for Arraignment to enter a formal plea to the charge.
If a felony complaint is filed, a summons will be mailed notifying the person of the charges and informing him/her of the date to appear in Early Disposition Court (EDC) for Status Conference.
The purpose for the Status Conference is for the government to provide initial discovery on the case, and to extend an initial plea offer. In some cases it is possible to resolve a criminal case by way of a negotiated plea in EDC, although this is a course of action to be taken only with the advice of counsel. If a plea agreement is reached, the case will be set for Sentencing. In cases that aren't resolved in EDC via negotiated plea agreement, the next step in the criminal justice process is for the Court to set the case for Preliminary Hearing.
A Preliminary Hearing is a hearing before a Judge where the government will call at least one witness to testify to the initial findings of the police investigation. If after this hearing the Judge is convinced that there is probable cause to believe that a crime was committed then the Judge will order the accused to appear at Arraignment to enter a formal plea to the charge.
The Arraignment is a formal hearing where the accused enters a formal plea to the charge(s). The normal plea that is entered at this stage of the proceeding is generally a straight 'not guilty' plea. However, there are other legal issues that can arise at the Arraignment, or later in the case, which will complicate the issue of what plea should be entered with the Court. The various potential pleas that can arise in a criminal case include: plea of not guilty, guilty but insane, once in jeopardy, guilty pursuant to Alford, nolo contendere – non vult contendere or no contest, a straight plea of guilty to the court (no plea agreement), and finally, guilty pursuant to a plea agreement. Determining what plea to enter at Arraignment is a very import step in a criminal case, and one that must be made in consultation with your attorney. You should never guess as to what the proper plea is to enter in your case. Consult an attorney. Once Arraignment is complete, your case will be set for Pre-Trial Hearings, which could includeInitial Pre-Trial Conference, Settlement Conference and Final Trial Management Conference.
During Pre-Trial hearings, your attorney will obtain discovery and have an opportunity to discuss your case with the prosecutor. On many occasions an initial plea offer will be extended by the government at the first Pre-Trial Conference. Except for the most unusual of circumstances, it is normally best not to enter into a plea agreement at your first Pre-Trial Conference simply because there has not been sufficient time to investigate your case to develop a criminal defense strategy. Nor has there been sufficient time to really make a determination of the strengths and weaknesses in the prosecutor's case.
A Settlement Conference is a formal conference which includes the prosecutor, your defense attorney, you and the judge. The purpose of this hearing is for the judge to assist the parties in litigation, in a collaborative manner, to try and resolve the case on terms that are acceptable to all sides. A successful Settlement Conference requires a comprehensive amount of preplanning to determine what the defense strategy will be prior to entering into the formal conference. Just as you would not walk into any important negotiation with no idea of what your objectives are, you certainly do not want to walk into the negotiating room of the Settlement Conference without have identified your litigation objectives and goals. To prepare for the Settlement Conference requires that you work with your attorney to define your litigation objectives and goals.
Trial Management Conference
A Trial Management Conference (TRC) is a final conference that precedes a jury trial. The purpose of the hearing is for the attorneys, you and the assigned Judge to discuss final attempts at settlement, and to discuss any legal issues that may be relevant to the upcoming trial once it is determined that settlement will not occur. A TRC can also be an opportunity for the court to rule on substantive pre-trial motions that have been filed by your attorney. This can include judicial rulings on Motions to Dismiss, Motions to Suppress, and other pre-trial motions arguing procedural defenses. This is an important hearing as it may be your last opportunity for a successful resolution short of a trial. Thus, it is important that you work with your attorney in a collaborative effort to prepare for the TRC so that you may achieve your litigation objectives.
Cases which are not dismissed, or settled with a negotiated plea agreement, will proceed to Trial. In the Pinal County Superior Court, felony trials will always be presented to a jury – a panel of citizens from the community. The trial is, without a doubt, the most important part of the entire criminal justice process. In order for you to have your best chances of success at trial you should retain an attorney who has a demonstrated record of success at trial. The key to success in any litigation is preparation, preparation, and more preparation during the Pre-Trial phases of your case. If the case is not properly prepared during the Pre-Trial phases then it will be too late for a comprehensive defense to be developed – on the fly – at trial. Thus, it is important that you hire an attorney who you feel is competent in their abilities to investigate and litigate your case. You should feel confident that the attorney you retain has the time, energy, skills, experience and passion for the work to properly handle your case.
In the unfortunate event that you are convicted of a criminal offense, whether as a result of a negotiated plea agreement, or by a finding of guilt following jury trial, the Court will proceed to Sentencing. On cases where you have entered into a negotiated plea agreement the sentence should be spelled out within the plea agreement itself, and the sentence should be pre-approved by you before you agree to enter the plea. Under this scenario there is no mystery at sentencing as to what the punishment will be because you have already negotiated your punishment directly in the plea. This will limit what the Judge can do to you at sentencing. In preparation for sentencing where the punishment is not already spelled out in a plea agreement, your attorney should be developing evidence of mitigating factors relevant to your case. Mitigating factors are any factors that would tend to suggest that this is an isolated event and that you are a good person deserving of leniency. Normally, the attorney should prepare a Mitigation Memorandum for the Court. This memorandum can be used to advocate for a more lenient sentence for the client. Finally, if you went to trial and were found guilty your attorney should discuss with you your rights to appeal the conviction and your attorney should file the 'Notice of Appeal' for you – before he or she withdraws from your case.
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Arizona DUI/Criminal Traffic Defense Strategies (e-book)
Copyright © 2011 Trent R. Buckallew, Attorney at Law
The Law Offices of Trent R. Buckallew, PC
Arizona Criminal Defense Attorney, 1201 S. Alma School Rd. #11550
Mesa, AZ 85210 – (602) 825-3300
**This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please contact the Firm to schedule a consultation regarding your case.