Arizona Criminal Justice Process – Tucson Criminal Justice

arizona criminal justice process

Arizona Criminal Justice Process

For those of us who have never been arrested, the process by which suspected criminals are booked and then tried is shrouded in mystery. This article will wade through the Arizona criminal justice process, remarking on all of its steps- from the arrest itself, bail, preliminary hearings, all the way to the defense hearing.

Miranda Rights

Miranda rights refer to the rights police must recite to criminals upon arrest. These rights are as follows:

  • You have the right to remain silent and to refuse to answer questions.
  • Anything you do say may be used against you in a court of law.
  • You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.
  • If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish.
  • If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.

arizona criminal justice processMiranda rights are designed to prevent self-incrimination under the fifth amendment of the Constitution. However, these rights were not always considered germane to the fairness of the criminal justice system. In 1966, a man by the name of Ernesto Miranda was arrested by Phoenix police under the charge of rape and kidnapping. During the subsequent interrogation, Miranda gave a confession, but only after two hours of questioning, and without notifying Miranda of his rights both to an attorney and to remain silent. His lawyer, Alan Moore, objected that the confession was not actually voluntary because he was not made aware of these rights. Eventually, in a case famously known as Miranda vs. The State of Arizona, the Supreme Court ruled that making criminals aware of these rights must be required by police around the country.

Although we take Miranda rights for granted now, many in the 1960’s morally objected to this court decision, believing it benefits criminals. In the following years, several other court cases also shaped the Miranda Rights standards we know today, either by supporting or challenging its relation to the fifth amendment. In 2010, a case known as Berghuis vs Thompkins drastically reduced the power of Miranda rights statements by allowing police to interrogate suspected criminals as long as they see fit, regardless of the statements (or absence of statements) given by the defendant. Many legal scholars believe this complicates the defendant’s right to remain silent, since police can legally persist until that silence is broken.

Detention vs Arrest

What is the difference between being arrested and detained, and how will you know the difference? A detention is considered “brief and cursory,” and must not involve any significant restraint on movement. An instance of detention is an officer questioning a suspicious looking person loitering in front of an abandoned building. The only requirement for this questioning is reasonable suspicion, a characteristic that can be fulfilled by almost anything when determined on a subjective basis. But when does this detention become arrest? The primary qualifier in determining whether you are arrested is not the officer saying so, but your feelings during the encounter. The question you must ask yourself is: “Do I feel free to leave the encounter with this officer?” If the answer is no, then you have been arrested.

arizona criminal justice process

If you feel trapped in the encounter with the officer, you have the right to ask: “Officer, am I arrested, or free to go?” At this point, the officer will determine whether they have probable cause for arrest. If they do not “arrest” you but still do not allow you to leave, this constitutes an arrest. Often, police will justify their attempts to unduly interrogate as simple detention, since they do not want to risk their reputation on a faulty arrest. While many officers will obtain the information they need for probable cause through this corrupt process, this does not mean that the subsequent arrest will be legitimate.

In a 1983 Miami case, detectives at an airport suspected a man named Brandon of being a drug smuggler. Instead of questioning him in the public area of the airport, they instead asked him to accompany them to a private room for questioning. There, they find cocaine in his luggage, and charge him accordingly. However, the court eventually decided that this cocaine evidence must be suppressed since it was obtained illegally, and the case was dismissed. If the officers had not taken Brandon to the private room, or had initially used drug-sniffing dogs, probable cause would have been achieved, and the arrest would have been legitimate. Yet, because Brandon “felt arrested” without actually being arrested, any evidence gathered during the interrogatory process had to be removed.

The Booking Process

Upon arrest, the suspect will be booked into jail. This booking will generally occur as the first step in what is usually a long and arduous Arizona criminal justice process. In most jurisdictions, booking will proceed as follows:

  1. Record the name and crime of the suspect
  2. Taking a mug shot
  3. Taking the suspect’s clothing and personal property into custody
  4. Taking the suspect’s fingerprints
  5. Conducting a full body search
  6. Checking for warrants
  7. Health Screening
  8. Taking a DNA sample

After this booking process, the defendant is allowed a “reasonable” number of telephone calls, either to family or to obtain legal aid. However, this right is not constitutionally mandated, and can be revoked if the defendant is being hostile or even uncooperative. If you are detained but not booked within a period of several hours, your attorney may go to the court to request a writ of habeas corpus, which allows the judge to make a determination on whether you are being lawfully held.

The Arraignment

The defendant is also allowed the right to a speedy trial, meaning within 72 hours of booking. This initial appearance, or arraignment, will be before a magistrate or justice of the peace, who will inform the defendant of the charges against them and appoint an attorney if necessary. If you do not have a private attorney yet, you may request a court-appointed lawyer for your arraignment under Arizona law. During the arraignment, the judge will first ask whether you plead guilty or not guilty. Extenuating circumstances notwithstanding, there is a near consensus among defense attorneys to plead not guilty at your arraignment. Even if you are guilty, pleading not guilty is not considered perjury, but simply declaring that the State must prove their case against you. This means requiring the prosecutor to gather evidence, and allows the defense a period of time to create a case.

The arraignment will also establish the terms of the defendant’s release, pursuant to the circumstances of the crime, the defendant’s criminal history, and safety of both the defendant and those around them. Save for incredibly heinous felony charges like murder and rape, judges will almost always allow some form of release prior to a formal trial. This type of release is usually only allowed upon posting bail. Bail is a sum of money determined by the judge based upon the severity of the crime, and paid to the court as collateral to guarantee the defendant’s attendance of the criminal trial. If the defendant is not able to post bail, they can still obtain release with the use of a bond. A bond is bail paid by a bond-company for a fee- generally ten percent of the total bail amount. Bond companies will disperse these funds through a “loan” of sorts, often secured by collateral such as a house or car. Bail money often reaches into the thousands of dollars, but is only meant as collateral to guarantee the defendant attends the trial. All bail monies, minus court fees, are returned to the defendant upon completion of the trial. In cases where the offense is less severe, judges can also rule to release defendants on their Own Recognizance. This does not require any bail payment, and is only allowed when the judge is absolutely confident that the defendant will attend the trial on their own accord.

Preliminary Hearing in the Arizona Criminal Justice Process

In cases of felony charges, a preliminary hearing is a right offered to the defendant prior to the official criminal hearing. At a preliminary hearing, the prosecution must provide probable cause evidence that the crime was committed by the defendant in question. Although the burden of evidence lies solely with the prosecution, defendants should not unilaterally request a preliminary hearing. At the official criminal trial, the standard of proof required must be beyond a reasonable doubt, meaning that the prosecution must prove with a wealth of evidence that the defendant committed the crime. However, the preliminary hearing only requires probable cause evidence, a far lower standard of proof. This lower standard allows the prosecution to make statements and compile evidence not available to them at a criminal trial, strengthening their case. Because Arizona criminal justice process allows defendants to waive their right to a preliminary hearing, some defense attorneys will recommend they do so- especially when they know the prosecution has limited evidence.

Plea Bargaining

The majority of criminal cases do not make it to trial, and are instead resolved through plea bargaining. Plea bargaining is the act of pleading guilty to reduce the severity of a charge, usually done through selective admission. For instance, if the defendant is charged with three different crimes, their admission to the least severe one can remove the other two. Plea bargaining is so common because it is considered a win-win; the prosecution gets their conviction, and the defendant receives heavily reduced punishment. Plus, since neither defense nor prosecution wants to endure the arduous criminal trial process, the plea bargain formed by the prosecution will usually be generous. Defendants can have felony charges dropped to misdemeanors, misdemeanors dropped to fines, and even prison time dropped to probation.

Criminal Trial

There no specific recommendations for a criminal trial; each case is distinct. There are generally three stages during a case: opening statements, presentation of evidence, and closing arguments. Both the defense and prosecution will take turns presenting their evidence and views until both sides are satisfied. Depending upon the severity of the crime, the trial may also include a jury. Upon the cessation of closing statements, the judge will instruct the jury, and they will leave to make their final decision.

Interested in learning more about the Arizona criminal justice process? We’d love to hear from you! Comment below or reach out to us on our social media channels. If you need criminal defense assistance in the state of Arizona, contact an experienced defense attorney today.