Nearly all crimes in Arizona are classified as either misdemeanors or felonies. Misdemeanors are punishable by up to 6 months in jail, while Felonies can result in much more serious charges. If convicted of a felony, a person can be sentenced from between 365 days to life in a state prison. Even the death penalty can be imposed for certain murders. Some examples of felonies are residential burglary, certain thefts, drug crimes, sexual assault or homicide.

The step-by-step stages used in Arizona’s felony courtrooms can be confusing to a first offender. The process has been put in place to assure that every person who is charged with a felony is given the benefit of due process of law. If you or somebody close to you is charged with a felony in Arizona, here are the legal steps that will be followed.

During the Arrest

An arrest can take place when a police officer is an eyewitness to a crime being committed. If that officer did not see the crime being committed, he or she can go before a judge with a warrant and be placed under oath. The officer will then testify as to why the warrant is needed. The judge can issue the warrant then and there. Once the subject of the warrant is located, he or she will be taken into custody. The subject will await an initial hearing before a judge at the jail of the county where the crime was committed. That should happen within 24 hours of the time of the arrest.

While you are awaiting an initial hearing, the police might want a statement or confession from you. It’s strongly recommended that you refuse to give either. Any statement or confession that might be given will only be used against you by prosecutors in efforts to convict you. Persist in your right to an attorney. You’ll want us with you at the time of your initial appearance.

Your Initial Hearing

The initial appearance is the first time that you will be in front of a judge in connection with the felony charge against you. He or she will not be your trial judge. One will be assigned to your case. The charges you face will be read to you, and questions will be asked about where you live, who you live with, whether you own the residence whether you are employed and if you’ve been arrested in the past. You want to show close ties with the community.

Those questions are asked for purposes of determining whether you are a flight risk and to set the amount of any bail bond. The judge could have good reason to believe that you’re not a flight risk. Depending on the felony that you are accused of, a low bond or recognizance bond might be set.

What if I Can’t Pay the Bail Bond?

If you don’t have the resources to pay the bail bond, a family member or friend might be able to do that on your behalf. Bail bond agencies are also a resource. Your attorney might be able to bring a motion to reduce your bail bond after the initial hearing. You will remain in custody at the county jail until such time as a bail bond is posted.

The Preliminary Hearing

A preliminary hearing is a probable cause hearing. The prosecution must produce enough evidence to show that a felony was committed and that you probably committed it. Your arresting officer would likely be the only witness against you. Preliminary hearings are often waived by defendants. That doesn’t mean that they admit to any charges and enter a guilty plea. Waiver of a preliminary hearing can’t be used against a defendant in the future. Here are some reasons why a person might want to go ahead with a preliminary hearing though:

  • There is a solid alibi defense.
  • There was an illegal search and seizure, and the evidence from the preliminary hearing can be used in a motion to suppress evidence and quash arrest.
  • To enlighten the prosecution of facts that it isn’t aware of.
  • When the client persists in their right to a preliminary hearing.

 Grand Juries

By default, prosecutors wish for defendants and their attorneys to know as little as possible about a case. That operates to increase the chances of a conviction and decrease the likelihood of raising viable defenses. Preliminary hearings force prosecutors to show some of their findings, however. To avoid that, prosecutors have the opportunity to take a felony arrest to a grand jury, usually made up of 16 to 23 selected individuals, where proceedings are held to indict people. Defendants, along with their attorneys, are not allowed to be present in grand jury hearings. The tactical advantage of a grand jury eliminates cross-examination and testimony that might harm the prosecution’s case.


As short as an arraignment proceeding can be, it is a critical and meaningful stage in any felony case. The judge who will hear your case will tell you what you are charged with and ask you how you plead. If for some reason, you are without an attorney, it is advised to plead not guilty. If you can’t afford an attorney, ask your judge to appoint a public defender on your behalf. At your arraignment, expect an order to be entered for discovery compliance for both the prosecution and the defense. A trial date will also be set.


Assuming that you persist in your plea of not guilty, the case against you will go to the trial stage. There are two types of trials. There are bench trials when a judge hears the case and enters a verdict of guilty or not guilty. There are also jury trials when the judge rules on the admissibility of evidence, and the jury renders a verdict of guilty or not guilty. The jury’s verdict must be unanimous. In some cases, no unanimous verdict is reached. That’s known as a hung jury. The prosecution can then elect to have you tried again. If you are found not guilty, you are not convicted, and you can go home. If you are convicted, you could be remanded to the county jail to await sentencing.


Upon a conviction, if a judge is allowed sentencing discretion, a presentencing investigation must be ordered from the probation department. A report of the investigation will then be given to the judge, the respective attorneys and the defendant. The defendant will be asked if he or she has read the report and whether it’s accurate. If the answers are in the affirmative, the judge will ask the attorneys for arguments in aggravation and mitigation. After those arguments are heard, a sentence is rendered.

Under most circumstances, it’s perfectly legal for police to lie to you in order to try and get you to admit to a crime. Always remember that you are presumed innocent until such time as the prosecution proves you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. You have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney being present during any questioning. Protect and invoke those rights. If the police won’t allow you to call our offices, ask the presiding judge at your initial hearing to allow you three phone calls. He or she knows that you are entitled to them. Contact Arizona Defense Law Firm, DM Cantor as soon as possible after any felony arrest. They will review your entire case from top to bottom and answer your questions.

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