Stages in a Criminal Defense Case

Although every criminal case is unique, with different facts presented and unpredictable outcomes, all follow the same procedural pattern in Arizona. The stages of a criminal defense case stay the same from case to case.

Criminal Investigation

Before the police make an arrest, law enforcement officers will review the facts to determine if there is probable cause for an arrest. The investigation may involve visiting the scene of the crime, interviewing the victim and witnesses, and collecting any available evidence. An investigation may also involve a request for a search warrant.

Arrest and Detention of a Suspect

If the investigation comes up with enough evidence to identify a suspect and give the police probable cause to make an arrest, the police will make an arrest. After booking the suspect at the police department, he or she can make a phone call. Then, the suspect will have to wait for his or her first hearing while in detention or at home, if he or she bails out. A judge will decide on bail based on factors such as the severity of the alleged crime and the suspect’s criminal history.

Arraignment Hearing

The arraignment hearing is the suspect’s first hearing, where a judge will read the criminal charges the prosecution has brought against him or her and hear how the suspect pleads – either guilty, not guilty or no contest. Every criminal defendant is legally entitled to representation. If the suspect has not hired a private criminal defense lawyer in Glendale by this time, the courts will appoint a public defender.

Preliminary Hearing

The suspect’s next court date could be a preliminary hearing if he or she is facing felony charges. The preliminary hearing is where the prosecutor must demonstrate sufficient evidence to support a felony charge. The suspect’s defense lawyer will also have the chance to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses.

Pretrial Motions

Pretrial motions describe different legal actions the defense attorney can take to help his or her client. The attorney may submit a motion to dismiss the charges, for example, or a motion to throw out certain evidence. Pretrial motions also refer to negotiations between the prosecutor and the defense attorney, such as a plea bargain.

Jury Selection

If pretrial negotiations do not end the case, it will go to trial. A trial always starts with jury selection. Both sides of the case will ask a panel of prospective jurors questions until they narrow down 12 that satisfy both parties. The jury of the suspect’s peers will be who hears the facts of the case and decides if the suspect is guilty or not guilty.

Criminal Trial

Once a jury has been selected, a judge will arrange a final court date. The suspect, defense attorney and prosecutor will attend the criminal trial. Criminal trials are open to the public, meaning the victim, the victim’s family, the suspect’s family and others may be in attendance. A criminal trial consists of five main phases.

  1. Opening statements
  2. Presentation of evidence
  3. Witness testimony
  4. Cross-examination
  5. Closing statements

During a criminal trial in Arizona, the prosecution has the burden to prove the suspect guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. He or she can present evidence and witnesses to a jury to try to meet this burden of proof. In response, the suspect can defend him or herself against the allegations with his or her own evidence and witnesses.

Verdict and Sentencing

At the conclusion of the trial, the jury will enter into deliberations. In Arizona, all 12 jurors must agree on a verdict. If all 12 jurors cannot agree, it will be a hung jury and a judge may declare a mistrial. Otherwise, the jury will submit its judgment. With a guilty verdict, a judge will arrange a sentencing hearing, where the suspect will hear his or her penalties. The suspect will then have the chance to appeal the jury’s decision, if desired.