Criminal Charges

This information is offered to help you understand criminal proceedings, including your rights and duties.

Under Arizona law, you can be brought to trial only after a formal citation or complaint has been filed. The citation or complaint is a document that states the charge(s) against you and alleges that your actions were unlawful. If you were given a citation/complaint by a police officer, the arraignment date will be the appearance date on your citation/complaint. If you received a summons from the Court, your arraignment date will be the court date indicated on your summons. If you are released from jail your release order will have your court date on it.

At your arraignment the Court is required to verify your true name and address; advise you of the charges against you and the maximum and any minimum required penalties that could be imposed if you are found guilty; explain your constitutional rights to you; and determine from you how you wish to plead. Remember that no witnesses will be present at your arraignment and no testimony will be taken. The judge at arraignment will not grant a defendant's request to dismiss any charges. Instead, you must decide upon and enter your plea to the charge.

Before the Court can consider your case, you must enter a plea. Your decision on what plea to enter is one of the most important decisions you will make. We suggest you read the following explanations before entering your plea. There are three possible pleas to a criminal charge:

  1. Plea of Not Guilty
    A plea of "Not Guilty" means that you are informing the Court that you deny guilt and the State (Prosecutor's Office) must prove the criminal charge(s) against you. Under our American system of justice, all persons are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. On a plea of "Not Guilty," a Pre-Trial Conference will be scheduled. At trial, the State will be required to present evidence to prove all charges against you beyond a reasonable doubt.

    If you plead "Not Guilty", you must decide whether to employ an attorney to represent you. You may defend yourself, but no one except an attorney may represent you

    In certain types of cases, a court-appointed attorney may be provided for you. In those types of cases, if you feel that you cannot afford an attorney and wish representation, you may fill out an application requesting that an attorney be appointed to represent you.

    If an attorney is appointed to represent you, you may be ordered to contribute to the cost of your attorney.

    If you choose to represent yourself, please read carefully the information regarding trial procedure and the proper manner of presenting your case.
  2. Plea of No Contest 
    A plea of "No Contest", also known as "Nolo Contendere," simply means that you do not wish to contest the State's charge against you. Upon a plea of "No Contest" being accepted, the Judge will enter a judgment of guilty.

    If you enter a plea of "Guilty" or "No Contest", you may be sentenced immediately following the Judge's acceptance of your plea.
  3. Plea of Guilty
    By a plea of "Guilty", you admit that you committed the act charged in the complaint(s), that the act is prohibited by law, and that you have no legal defense for your act.

    If you were involved in an incident where someone was injured at the time of the alleged offense, your plea of "Guilty" could be used later in a civil suit for damages as an admission by you that you were at fault or were the party responsible for the injury.

    Diversion Programs
    For some offenses, such as shoplifting, programs offered by the City Prosecutor's Office provide an alternative to the normal trial process. The City Prosecutor, not the Court, must determine if you are eligible for these programs. If you are eligible for these programs, information will be provided at the Pre-Trial Conference.

    No witnesses are present at arraignment and no testimony will be taken. The judge at arraignment will not grant a Defendant's request to dismiss any charges. Instead, you must decide upon and enter a plea to the charge against you.


You and your attorney will be given an opportunity to meet with a Prosecutor to review the facts supporting the State's criminal charges against you. At the Pre-Trial Conference (PTC), you are entitled to review a copy of the complaint(s), any written police reports, accident reports, and any other evidence that the State intends to use at the trial. Witnesses do not attend the PTC conference, and no testimony is taken. You are not required to discuss the facts of your case with the Prosecutor, since anything you say to them could be used against you in further proceedings.

You have three options at the PTC.

  1. You have the option of accepting the Plea Agreement, which routinely contains the sentence you will receive (if accepted by the Judge).
  2. You can reject the Prosecutor's offer and change your plea of "Not Guilty" to "Guilty" or "No Contest" directly to the Judge without agreeing on a sentence with the Prosecutor. If the Court accepts your plea, you will be sentenced by the Judge. Both you and the City Prosecutor will have an opportunity to address the Court before the Court determines the sentence.
  3. You can maintain your plea of "Not Guilty" and have the case set to trial.

If your case is not resolved at the PTC it will be set for trial. You and the prosecutor are required to file a Pre-Trial Statement, which is a form the prosecutor will have at the PTC. You and the prosecutor will list both the witnesses each of you expects to use at trial, and a list of the exhibits each of you will ask to be introduced as evidence at the trial. Remember that you have the right to ask the Court to issue subpoenas for witnesses to ensure their presence at trial. Requests for subpoenas should be made well in advance of trial so that you will have time to ensure that they are properly served.

Attorney Representation

You always have the right to be represented by an attorney at all stages of a criminal proceeding. In certain types of cases, Shoplifting, DUI, or cases involving Sexual Misconduct, you may qualify for a court-appointed attorney if you are unable financially to hire your own attorney. If you think that you may qualify for a court-appointed attorney you should advise the Court and if the case is one which allows an attorney to be appointed the Court will have you fill out a financial affidavit under oath to determine if you qualify. In all cases and at all times, however, you may always hire your own attorney. If you are going to have an attorney represent you, you should make those arrangements prior to the PTC, and in any event well in advance of the trial date. The attorney must also notify the Court in writing that the attorney will be appearing on your behalf.

Depending on the alleged offense, you will be entitled to a jury trial or non- jury trial.

You are entitled to hear all testimony introduced against you.

You have a right to cross-examine any witness who testifies against you. You have a right to testify on your own behalf. You also have a Constitutional right not to testify. If you choose not to testify, your refusal cannot and will not be used against you in determining your guilt or innocence. However, if you do choose to testify, the Prosecutor will have the right to cross-examine you.

You may call witnesses to testify on your behalf.

If you are represented by an attorney, you will be advised regarding the presentation of your case. If not, you need to be aware of the following:

The State will present its case first by calling witnesses to testify against you.

After each prosecution witness has finished giving testimony on direct, you will have the right to cross-examine the witness. Your examination must be in the form of questions. Do not argue with the witness. Do not attempt to tell your side of the story at this time. You will have an opportunity to present your evidence later in the trial.

After the prosecution has presented its case, you may present your case. You have the right to call witnesses of your choosing.

It is at this point that you may testify on your own behalf if you desire.

Following the defense case, the State may, if it wishes, then present rebuttal evidence.

At the end of the trial, you will have an opportunity to summarize your case to the jury, or, in a non-jury case, to the Judge. At that time, you may present any arguments which are based on the evidence presented during the trial in order to show your innocence.

The State is required to prove the charge(s) against you beyond a reasonable doubt.

The judgment or verdict will be based on the facts and evidence presented during the trial. Only the evidence admitted by the Court and the testimony of witnesses who are under oath can be considered.

If you are found not guilty, the case ends. If you are found guilty, you will be sentenced. The sentencing can take place at the time you are found guilty, or on a later date.

The amount of any jail sentence, fine, fee, restitution, or probation assessed by the Court is affected by the facts and circumstances of the case and your prior criminal record. Mitigating circumstances may lower the amount of jail, fine, or probation. However, aggravating circumstances may increase the amount of jail, fine, or probation.

For some offenses, there are statutory minimum sentences which the Judge must impose. In no instance will sentences exceed the maximum levels of $2,500 fine plus surcharges and/or 6 months in jail and/or 5 years probation.

Payment of Your Monetary Sentence

If you are ordered to pay a fine, fee, and/or restitution, payment in full is expected on the day of sentencing. Payment on any financial sentence may be made by cash, money order, credit/debit card. If you meet certain financial requirements, you may be allowed some time to pay. However, a time payment fee will be added to the amount that you owe. Failure to comply with a payment schedule will result in additional Court proceedings and possible sanctions for non-compliance. This may include, but is not limited to a warrant being issued for your arrest, the suspension of your driver's license, referral to a collection agency, the attachment of your Arizona income tax refund, and any other legally appropriate collection actions against you, your income or your property. If the Court refers your account to a collection agency or the Arizona Department of Revenue, additional collection fees will be added to your account balance.


You may be required to pay restitution for any damage or economic loss suffered by a victim. All restitution payments must be made to the Court for disbursement to the victim. If you have an insurance company which will pay the restitution portion of your sentence, it must make payment directly to the Court or provide proof of payment so that the Court can accurately record payment of this portion of your sentence.

Following a trial, you have the right to appeal a final judgment of this Court to the Maricopa County Superior Court. The Notice of Appeal must be filed within 14 calendar days of the judgment against you. The Judge in your case will advise you of your appeal rights following sentencing in your case. If you decide to appeal, you will be advised as to what fees apply.

In ruling on your appeal, the Superior Court will review the issues of fact and law arising from your trial or hearing. Your appeal will not result in a retrial of the facts and you will not be allowed to present new evidence or testimony on appeal.