Before felony charges may be prosecuted in Arizona, there must be a finding of probable cause, either by a grand jury or by a judge at a preliminary hearing. Requiring the state to demonstrate probable cause before prosecution may proceed on felony charges acts as a safeguard against frivolous charges lacking probable cause. It is the prosecutor who decides whether to file a complaint (which is subject to court review for probable cause at a preliminary hearing), or to ask a grand jury to find probably cause and issue an indictment. If you find yourself facing felony charges as a result of a grand jury indictment or on a prosecutor complaint, you need to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible, as there are important time limits for asserting certain rights.

Felony Charges Via Preliminary Hearing or Grand Jury

Why the Different Routes?

Typically, the more serious cases go the grand jury route. When a case is taken to a grand jury, the jury has to decide whether not there is probable cause to believe that the offenses which have been identified by the prosecutor were committed. If the grand jury decides that there is probable cause, then they issue a “True Bill” and an indictment is filed in Superior Court. Once the subject of that indictment is notified, the charges become public record.

The first court date following this process is called an arraignment. The purpose of the arraignment is to see if the individual will appear in court, to hear their will plea (guilty or not guilty), to determine who will represent them, and to establish release conditions such as own recognizance, or a bond, or non-bondable. Needless to say, there are important decisions to be made in the early phases of the case, and the advice of an experienced criminal defense lawyer can be critical at this phase of a criminal prosecution.

Cases commenced by direct complain and subject to the preliminary hearing process are usually somewhat less serious offenses or offenses that are likely to resolve without a complicated trial proceeding. Cases such as possession of drugs, aggravated DUI, burglary and other minor felony offenses are typically brought by direct complaint. Usually, individuals are notified that a complaint has been filed and that they are due in court by a summons received in the mail.

Decisions At the Start Impact the Entire Case

If you received a summons notifying you that felony charges are being filed and the case is set for either a status conference or preliminary hearing, you are at the start of this process. Experienced criminal defense attorney advice can be invaluable at this point of the process. At the first court appearance, often the initial police report and discovery information is made available, and there are opportunities for plea negotiations which may resolve the case short of trial. In these circumstance, you may need to decide whether the plea offer is worthwhile or if the case should be set for trial. A skilled, careful review of the police report and other available information, informed by legal knowledge and experience, is critical in deciding how to proceed.

Irrespective of whether you are facing court proceedings that follow a grand jury indictment or a direct complaint, you need to seek the advice of a skilled criminal defense attorney. As with any criminal case, decisions made early in the case that may significantly affect the case, the proceedings, and the possible outcomes.

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. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.