Steps in a Criminal Case in Arizona

Learn the steps of a criminal case in Arizona.

Steps in a Criminal Case in Arizona

Misdemeanor cases are handled by municipal courts (city) and Justice Courts (county). Felony cases are handled by the Superior Court for the County, however they may also be handled initially in the Justice Courts as well. Juvenile court is available for minors who commit criminal offenses, though juveniles may sometimes be tried as adults depending on the circumstances.


Law enforcement will arrive to the scene when a crime has been reported or a warrant has been issued. Police will create a report that describes all the evidence involved, which may include audio recording, body camera footage, photographs, verbal testimony, and written descriptions. With sufficient incriminating evidence, an individual may be arrested.

Charging and Initial Appearance

Upon reviewing the evidence from law enforcement, a prosecutor can file a direct complaint or seek an indictment through a Grand Jury. A direct complaint allows the judge to summon the defendant to a preliminary hearing to be officially notified of the charges filed against them. For a Grand Jury indictment, the evidence will be presented to a jury, who will then decide whether there is enough evidence to charge or arrest the defendant. An indictment can also be referred to as a True Bill.

An arrested person is required to appear before a judge within 24 hours for an Initial Appearance. At the IA, the defendant will be informed of their charges, read their rights, and have bond and release conditions set.

Preliminary Hearing

This step is not taken if the defendant has been indicted by a Grand Jury. Otherwise, a preliminary hearing is held following an initial appearance for felony cases. At this hearing, essentially a mini trial, the prosecutor must demonstrate that there is probable cause a crime was committed by the defendant. Without sufficient cause, the judge can dismiss the case. Otherwise, an arraignment date will be set the case will be set for trial.


At an arraignment, a defendant will enter their plea (guilty, not guilty, or no contest). They can also choose to enter into a plea agreement. At the arraignment, future dates for the case will be set which will include a pretrial conference and possibly a trial date.

Pretrial Conference

The pretrial conference is a meeting between the judge, the prosecutor, and the defendant and their attorney to review the case’s evidence. At the PTC, you can accept a plea offer, change your plea, or move forward with a trial date.

Settlement Conference

A settlement conference is optional and can only be held if the prosecution opts in. This conference provides an opportunity for the prosecutor and defense to review the evidence in front of a judge and attempt to settle the case and avoid trial.

Final Trial Management Conference

Approximately seven days before a trial, a final trial management conference will be held. The FTMC solidifies the upcoming trial date and addresses any last-minute issues. Usually, all plea offers will have expired by this point. If a continuance (rescheduling to a later date) of the trial is needed, this can be addressed here as well.


A case will go to trial if a plea agreement has not been reached. Read about bench trials versus jury trials here. The trial consists of:

  • Jury selection (if jury eligible)
  • Opening statements outlining the case
  • The State’s presentation of evidence to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt
  • The Defense’s presentation of evidence
  • The State’s presentation of any Rebuttal evidence to the Defense’s evidence
  • Closing statements from both parties
  • Jury deliberation (if jury eligible)
  • The reading of the verdict


If a defendant is found guilty at trial, pleads guilty, or pleads nolo contendere (accepting a conviction without admitting guilt), the judge can proceed straight to sentencing at that moment in certain situations. However, often the law requires a separate date be set for a defendant to receive their sentencing. Sentences can include paying restitution and fines, probation, and incarceration.



With offices in Lake Havasu City and Scottsdale, our firm serves the entire state of Arizona, with a particular focus on criminal defense, family law, and juvenile cases.

Our goal is for the best outcome for your criminal case, which can include:

  • charges that are reduced or dropped.
  • top experts reviewing your case.
  • aggressive negotiations with the prosecution for plea bargains.
  • fines or probation in lieu of jail time.

At Rideout Law Group, our attorneys are able to expertly examine the evidence in your case to provide a strong strategy for argument that leads to an outcome that is most favorable to you. We have experience in all types of criminal cases for both adults and juveniles, with positive outcomes both in plea negotiations as well as jury trial settings.

Call us today for a free consultation at 480-584-3328.

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