Guide To The Criminal Justice Process For Victims of Misdemeanor Crimes In Arizona

If you are a victim of a crime or a witness to one, your assistance is vital to our criminal justice system. The following explains our system and why your participation is so important.

Misdemeanor Crimes

The Mesa City Prosecutor's Office is responsible for the prosecution of misdemeanor crimes that are tried in the Mesa Municipal Court.

Misdemeanors are violations of city ordinances or state statutes. These range from minor traffic offenses to more serious crimes such as domestic violence, assault, theft, driving under the influence, hit-and-run, indecent exposure and public sexual indecency.

If you are a victim of a  misdemeanor crime involving physical injury, the threat of physical injury, or a sexual offense, you have certain rights under the Victims' Rights Law. 

 

Arrest and Initial Appearance

When a defendant is arrested, either on or about the date of the violation or as a result of an arrest warrant, he or she is taken to jail. The defendant is then brought before a judge or commissioner for an Initial Appearance within 24 hours of the arrest. At the Initial Appearance; the defendant is arraigned and enters a plea of Guilty or Not Guilty. Most defendants are released at the Initial Appearance on their own recognizance (OR). When released on his or her own recognizance, the defendant is not required to post bail or a bond. It is believed that he or she has sufficient community ties to assure his or her appearance in court. They must give his/her personal promise to return to court when scheduled.

Defendants who have committed multiple crimes, more serious offenses, or those who have a history of not returning to court as required are released only upon bond. The amount of the bond set depends on many factors including the type of crime for which the person has been arrested.

Whether released on their own recognizance or with a bond, terms may be set to restrict a defendant's behavior upon release. Contact between the defendant and victims or witnesses can be prohibited as a term of release. It is against the law for a defendant to harass or intimidate a victim or witness in any way. Any new crimes or harassment should be reported immediately to the police. A defendant's terms of release can be modified, or he/she can be taken back into custody if a defendant does not comply with their release conditions.

 

Arraignment

If no arrest is made, the defendant may still be brought before the court by a "summons and complaint." The first court appearance for the defendant in Municipal Court is called an "arraignment."

Witnesses are not required to appear. The arraignment serves several purposes. First, the defendant is informed of the exact nature of the charge(s). The defendant is also advised of his or her rights including the right to have an attorney, and if he or she cannot afford an attorney, to have one be provided at public expense. At this time, the defendant pleads guilty or not guilty to the charge(s). If the defendant enters a plea of "guilty" at arraignment, the judge will either sentence the defendant immediately or set a later sentencing date.

If you want to be heard on sentencing or on release or bond at the arraignment stage you must be present for the arraignment or fill out a Victim Impact Statement, to be submitted to the judge. If you are only interested in restitution, you must return the completed restitution form to the prosecutor's office before the arraignment, or contact the prosecutor and request additional time to return the restitution information. If you do not attend the arraignment and have not returned the restitution card or contacted the prosecutor and requested additional time, the Court will assume that you do not want restitution and may sentence the defendant at the arraignment.

If the defendant enters a plea of "not guilty," a pretrial conference date is set.

 

Pre-Trial Conference

At the pretrial conference, it is routine for the Assistant City Prosecutor handling the case to discuss the possibility of a negotiated plea agreement with the defense attorney. At this conference, the prosecutor gives the defense attorney copies of the State's case file, which includes witnesses' statements and police reports.

If an agreement is reached, the attorneys and the defendant appear before a judge. The defendant change his or her plea to guilty or no contest, signs a form declaring that he or she is knowingly giving up various rights, including the right to cross examine witnesses. The judge will usually sentence the defendant according to the terms of the agreement.

 

Pre-Trial Proceedings

If a plea agreement cannot be reached, trial preparation begins. The Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure require the prosecutor and defense attorney to give information to the other party. This process, called discovery, includes providing the defense attorney with a copy of the police report and any other written information and may include interviews with prospective witnesses. In Arizona, the defense has the right to interview all of the State's witnesses unless they are also victims.

As a victim of a crime, you have the absolute right to refuse to be interviewed or deposed. If you decide to be interviewed, you may set the terms for the interview. Neither the defendant or the defense attorney (not anyone associated with either) may contact you except by going through the prosecutor's office. If you are contacted, you are under no obligation to talk with the defense attorney. If you are so contacted, you should notify the prosecutor's office or court as soon as possible. You should request anyone contacting you about the case to identify himself or herself.

During discovery, there may be several court hearings that are scheduled before trial. At the court hearings, called pretrial hearings, motions may be heard regarding the admissibility of evidence, pretrial release of the defendant or other matters of concern to the attorneys or the court. Unless you are subpoenaed for a pretrial hearing, you do not need to be present. However, as a victim, you have a right to be present and, upon request, to be informed of all proceedings where the defendant has the right to be present.

 

Trial

If a negotiated plea agreement is not reached, the case is set to trial. As a victim you probably will receive a subpoena for the trial, which orders you to appear in court.

If you need any assistance or information concerning your subpoena or wish to limit or avoid contact with the defendant in or about the courtroom, please call the Mesa City Prosecutor's Office at the phone number displayed on your subpoena or call (480) 644-2188 to reach the Victim Services Unit.

Depending on the type of crime committed, the trial will be to either a judge or jury.

The case begins with an opening statement by the prosecutor and defense attorney. The State then presents its evidence. It is the responsibility of the State to prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Witnesses are required to testify under oath and may be cross-examined by the defense attorney.

After the prosecution presents its evidence and rests its case, the defense has an opportunity to present its evidence. The defendant has a right not to incriminate himself/herself and may or may not testify. In face, since the State has the burden of proof, the defense need not call any witnesses or present any evidence.

When the defense rests, rebuttal witnesses may be called by the prosecutor to discredit testimony or other evidence presented by the defense. At the end of the evidence, the prosecutor and the defense attorney make final arguments. If there is a jury, the judge then instructs the jury on the law to apply and their duty to deliberate.

A jury verdict must b unanimous. A jury that is unable to agree on a verdict is said to be "hung." The prosecution may then request the case be retried. If the jury returns a verdict of "not guilty," it means that the prosecution has failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt and the defendant is acquitted and released.

Sentencing

If the defendant is found guilty, the judge may set a future date for the defendant to be sentenced. In most misdemeanor cases, sentencing may occur the same day the defendant is found guilty. The defendant has the right to delay sentencing for a minimum of thirty days from the date of conviction.

If the defendant is placed on probation, you have the right to receive a copy of the terms of probation. If any of the terms of probation are violated and you learn of it, you should contact the police or prosecutor.

 

Appeal

A defendant has the right to appeal a conviction resulting from a trial. An appeal is a formal request asking a higher court to review the case to determine if all of the defendant's rights were observed and that the law and procedures were followed.

A defendant may not appeal a conviction resulting from a guilty plea or plea agreement. The defendant can ask the trial judge to reconsider the conviction on certain limited grounds.

This is a very simple explanation of how the criminal justice system operates. All of the complexities of the system cannot be explained.

 

Invoking Rights

If you want to be kept informed about court dates and case disposition, and did not sign a victim request for, or waiver of, pre-conviction and/or pre-adjudication rights form, please contact the Victim Services Unit at the Mesa City Prosecutor's Office at (480) 644-2188. This form would have been offered to you at the scene. For questions regarding restitution, please call (480) 644-5525.

 

Change of Address

If you have a change of address or phone number, please contact the Victim Services Unit at (480) 6442188, or send it in writing to:

Mesa City Prosecutor's Office
Victim Services Unit
250 E. 1st Avenue
Mesa, AZ 85210

 

Special Information for Victims of Domestic Violence

If you are the victim in a domestic violence case, there is important information you should know. Domestic violence is a specific designation given to certain crimes where the defendant and the victim share a special relationship of current or prior marriage, children in common, or current or prior co-habitation.

In the state of Arizona, first-time domestic violence offenders who commit a non-serious injury crime are eligible for the Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP). This is a program where domestic violence charges are dismissed if the offender agrees to obtain domestic violence counseling. If a defendant is not eligible for DVIP, he/she will proceed through pre-trial, trial, and sentencing stages. If a defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty to a domestic violence crime, domestic violence counseling will be a mandatory part of the sentence.

Unique to domestic violence crimes is the crucial role of the victim. While only the State can bring or dismiss charges against a domestic violence offender, the cooperation of the victim is essential to the process. Often the victim in a case is the only witness to the crime(s). However, due to the relationship with the defendant, victims may find testifying against the defendant difficult. It is important to understand though that subpoenas to appear and testify at a criminal trial are court orders. Failure to obey a court order can result in legal action against the one subpoenaed. Further, when victims fail to cooperate in their offender's case it send the wrong message to the offenders. The Victim Services Unit is always available to assist victims with issues like testifying.