In general, misdemeanor offenses committed within the town limits of either the Town of Payson or the Town of Hayden are prosecuted by the Payson Town and Hayden Town Attorneys’ Offices, respectively. All other misdemeanors committed within Gila County, as well as all felony offenses, are prosecuted by the Gila County Attorneys’ Office. If you are not sure which prosecuting agency is handling your case, please contact the court where the case has been filed.
Investigation and Arrest
In most cases, a local law enforcement agency investigates the reported crime. The law enforcement officer will interview witnesses and victims and gather evidence, such as witness statements and photographs. At the conclusion of the officer’s investigation, the officer will complete an Arizona Traffic Ticket and Complaint form, which charges the accused with the alleged crimes. The officer will do one of several things: (1) make an immediate arrest; (2) have the accused sign the Arizona Traffic Ticket and Complaint, which, without admitting
guilt, is a promise to appear on a certain date and time in court; or (3) request the court issue a summons commanding the accused to appear in court on a certain date and time. After the officer completes the Arizona Traffic Ticket and Complaint, the officer will file it in the appropriate Justice Court or Magistrate Court. The officer then completes an incident report and compiles the evidence.
If the officer makes an immediate arrest and books the accused into the County Jail, then the accused will be taken before a Judge or commissioner for an Initial Appearance. At this hearing, the Judge advises the defendant of the criminal charges that have been alleged and of his/her constitutional rights and then makes a determination regarding the defendant’s release conditions. Many defendants are released at this time on their own recognizance (O.R.) with a promise to return to court when required. Other defendants could be held in jail or released after posting a bond. Any defendant who is released from jail will have conditions of release imposed upon them by the Judge and the defendant must abide by these conditions or risk being placed back in jail. The Judge will also hold an arraignment at this time.
The first appearance of a defendant in Justice Court or Magistrate Court, whether it be at the time of an initial appearance hearing or in response to a summons, is called an arraignment. At this hearing the defendant will be asked to enter a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty.” If the defendant pleads “guilty,” then the court may proceed with sentencing at that time. If, however, the case is determined to be one involving a statutory victim, then the Judge will set a sentencing date no more than thirty days after the arraignment to allow the County Attorney’s Office to notify the victim accordingly. If the defendant pleads “not guilty,” then the Judge will set a Pre-trial Conference date.
A Pre-trial Conference is a hearing at which the prosecutor and the defendant (or the defendant’s attorney) can meet and discuss whether there might be a fair, non-trial resolution of the case or, if not, can exchange information to prepare for trial. At this hearing, the prosecutor will provide the defendant (or his/her attorney) with a disclosure packet, which generally consists of a police report, a list of the witnesses and evidence that the prosecutor would use at trial if the case went to trial, and a plea agreement.
A plea agreement is the prosecutor’s proposed resolution or settlement of your case. A plea agreement might enable a defendant to plead guilty to the original charge(s) or to some lesser charge(s), dismiss certain charges, include a commitment from the prosecutor not to file additional charges, and/or stipulate to the defendant receiving a particular sentence. If a plea agreement is reached, the prosecutor and the defendant appear before the Judge for a change of plea hearing. The defendant enters a plea of guilty as agreed in the plea agreement. Sentencing will then occur at the same time as the change of plea. The sentence imposed will follow the terms of the plea agreement and the case will be closed. However, if the case is determined to be one involving a statutory victim, the County Attorney's Office may request that a sentencing date be set in the matter no more than thirty days after the Pre-trial Conference to allow the County Attorney’s Office to notify the victim accordingly. If a plea agreement is not reached, then a trial may be requested and the judge will set a trial on a future date.
The defendant is responsible for keeping his/her mailing address correctly updated with the court so that the defendant will receive all court notices. If a defendant fails to appear for a Pre-trial Conference or any court hearing, a warrant may issue for the defendant’s arrest and the court may send a notice reporting the failure to appear to the Arizona Department of Motor Vehicles, which can result in suspension of the defendant’s driving privileges.
If a plea agreement is not reached, the case will go to trial. Both parties can present witnesses and evidence at trial as long as the witness or item of evidence has been previously disclosed to the other party in accordance with the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure. The trial will normally be heard by a Judge, though some types of cases may qualify to be heard by a jury. The defendant has a right to compel witnesses to appear and testify at trial by using the subpoena powers of the court. The defendant can present a subpoena list to the court and the court will issue subpoenas in advance for the defendant’s witnesses. During trial, witnesses might be excluded from the courtroom until they are finished testifying to ensure that one witness is not influenced by the testimony of another witness. If you are a defendant or a victim, however, you have the right to be present throughout the entire trial.
The trial commences with the prosecutor making an opening statement to explain the case. Then the defendant may make an opening statement at that time or may wait until the conclusion of the State’s case to make his/her opening statement. Sometimes the parties choose to waive opening statements at trial. The prosecutor then presents the case against the defendant by calling witnesses to testify under oath and by presenting physical evidence. The defendant (or his/her attorney) may cross-examine the witnesses. It is the responsibility of the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was committed by the defendant. After the prosecutor has finished presenting the State’s case against the defendant, the defense has an opportunity to present its evidence. The defendant can choose whether or not to testify on his/her own behalf. The prosecutor may cross-examine the defense’s witnesses (including the defendant if the defendant decides to testify.) Following the defense’s case, the prosecutor may call rebuttal witnesses to discredit statements and facts presented by the defense.
At the conclusion of the trial, the prosecutor and the defendant (or defendant’s attorney) make closing arguments to the judge or jury. After the closing arguments, the Judge or jury will either find the defendant “guilty” or “not guilty.” If the defendant is found “not guilty,” then the defendant is acquitted and the case is closed. If the defendant is found “guilty,” then the Judge will normally sentence the defendant at that time. If a jury cannot make a unanimous decision whether to find a defendant “guilty” or “not guilty,” then the case will be set for a new trial.
If the defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty at trial, the Judge will impose a sentence not to exceed the maximum allowed by law, which could consist of a term of incarceration in the County Jail, a monetary fine plus any statutory surcharges, a cost of prosecution assessment, any counseling required by law, and/or a period of probation, or any other appropriate sanction not listed here. If the sentencing occurs after a plea of guilty pursuant to a plea agreement, the Judge will follow the sentence contained in the plea agreement. If a victim is involved, the victim may make a statement to the Judge at the time of the defendant’s sentencing. Arizona law requires the Judge to order the defendant to pay restitution if the victim has suffered a monetary loss directly related to the crime. Restitution payments are made to the Clerk of the Court, who then mails the payments to the victim.