Criminal Defense

Felony Attorney

How Do Felony Cases Work in Superior Court?

A felony offense is any crime that carries a range of sentence in the Arizona Department of Corrections. There are six classes of felonies in Arizona that range from a Class 1 (most serious) through Class 6 (least serious). When you are charged with a felony offense in Arizona, your case will be heard in the Superior Court of your county. In Phoenix, that is the Maricopa County Superior Court.

Regional Court Center/Early Disposition Court: Some minor felony cases do not fully enter the superior courts. They stay in hybrid courts called Early Disposition Court (EDC). In Maricopa County, they also have the Regional Court Center (RCC). In EDC and RCC, cases are put on the fast track. A defendant is usually given a few pages of police reports, a plea, and 30 days to resolve the case. If a defendant rejects the EDC or RCC plea, their case is formally moved to the superior court.

Indictment via the Grand Jury: Most felony cases are charged via indictment. An indictment is a formal document outlining the charges against a defendant. The indictment is signed by a Grand Jury. To obtain formal charges, prosecutors go in front of the Grand Jury in secret to present their case. They usually bring one witness who testifies about the facts of the case to the Grand Jury. After the Grand Jury hears the witness testimony, they determine whether there is probable cause to sign the indictment and file formal charges. Grand juries sign indictments more than 95% of the time. Sadly, the Grand Jury process is little more than a formality in Arizona.

Initial Appearance: When you are arrested for a felony offense in Arizona, you must appear before a judge within 24 hours to set your release conditions (bond, confinement, release to pretrial services, etc.). Initial Appearance Court is located at the 4th Avenue Jail in Maricopa County. They hold initial appearance hearings every three (3) hours for in-custody detainees. If you are issued a summons (sent a letter in the email telling you to come to court), then your initial appearance will simply be held in the Superior Court on the date and time listed on your summons. Call us if you receive this letter.

At an initial appearance, a judge will consider whether to release you on your own recognizance (release with no supervision), release you to pretrial services, set a bond, or hold you non-bondable. In determining your release conditions, the judge will consider: the nature of the charges, ties to the community, criminal history, employment, etc.

Arraignment: An arraignment occurs after a finding of probable cause. It is considered the formal beginning of a felony case. At the arraignment, a defendant enters plea(s) of not guilty, is assigned a case management judge, and obtains their next court dates. A defendant only gives their name and date of birth at an arraignment. It is a very quick hearing.

Initial Pretrial Conference: Approximately forty-five days after an arraignment is a defendant’s Initial Pretrial Conference (IPTC). The IPTC is a status conference where the judge wants to know the status of discovery (evidence disclosed by the State), whether a plea has been extended, and when the plea expires. The Court will also schedule a trial date at that time. If the State has failed or refused to provide evidence by the IPTC, the IPTC judge will instruct them to disclose that evidence asap.

Comprehensive Pretrial Conference: A Comprehensive Pretrial Conference (CPTC) is a hearing scheduled approximately forty-five days before trial. The State and Defense filed a joint pretrial conference statement which tells the judge what to expect at trial. The CPTC statement includes: 1) number of jurors needed for trial; 2) number of witnesses; 3) length of trial; 4) how many pretrial interviews have been conducted; and 5) whether each party expects to file substantive motions.

Settlement Conference: A settlement conference is a hearing scheduled to resolve a case before trial. These hearings assist in negotiating plea agreements. Settlement conferences are informal hearings before a judge where parties can speak openly about their case. Besides negotiations, the judge will discuss the range of sentence after trial, benefits of a plea, weaknesses in the State’s case, and the weight of the evidence. Settlement conferences help defendants make informed decisions about their case. The decision to go to trial or take a plea can be overwhelming. Settlement conferences can make that decision a little easier.

Change of Plea Hearing: If a defendant decides to accept a plea agreement, there must be a change of plea hearing. This is where a defendant changes his plea from not guilty to guilty. Most defendants plea to lesser charges. For example, a defendant charged with Kidnapping, a class 2 felony with a range of 3-12.5 years in prison, might take a plea to Unlawful Imprisonment, a class 6 felony with a range of 4 months – 2 years in prison.

During a change of plea hearing, the judge wants to make sure the defendant’s decision to take a plea is voluntary. A judge will ask the defendant if they understand the plea, their rights, and if they have any questions. Once a judge accepts a plea agreement, it is very difficult for a defendant to get out of a plea agreement. Buyer’s remorse is not a sufficient reason to withdraw from a plea.

Sentencing: A sentencing hearing takes place 30 days after a change of plea hearing or a conviction at trial. Sentencing is where the judge imposes the consequences of a plea or conviction. The range of sentence depends on the plea or conviction. If a defendant takes a plea with a range of 1 to 3 years, the judge can sentence the defendant to any amount of time within that range. However, a judge could not impose less than 1 or more than 3 years without rejecting that plea agreement. Judges usually abide by the terms of the plea and sentence within the range.

Having the right attorney at sentencing is essential. An experienced attorney will file a sentencing memorandum before the hearing. A sentencing memorandum will outline mitigation (good things about a person that cry out for leniency and mercy from the court). Sentencing memos will usually have character letters from friends and family attached. Presenting mitigation to a judge at the time of sentencing is essential to obtain a fair sentence.

Final Trial Management Conference: The Final Trial Management Conference (FTMC) is set one week before jury trial. At an FTMC, a judge wants to know if the parties are ready to proceed to trial or if a continuance is needed.

Trial: Trial is the arena of criminal law. Nothing is more important. Here are the phases of a felony jury trial:

  1. Jury Selection/Voir Dire: Jury selection is the process of determining which prospective jurors will hear the case. The judge, prosecution, and defense are permitted to ask prospective jurors relevant questions to see if they can be fair and impartial. Prospective jurors can be struck for cause (because they cannot be fair and impartial), or they may be struck by the parties. When enough prospective jurors have been struck, the remaining jurors are empaneled, sworn in, and will hear the case.
  2. Opening Statements: After the jury is empaneled, the State will give its opening statement. The Defense can give an opening statement but is not required to. Opening statements are not argument. An opening statement should preview the case and the evidence.
  3. State’s Case: After opening statements, the State will proceed with its case-in-chief. They will call all their witnesses and present all evidence. Whenever a witness is called, the first part of their testimony is direct examination (counsel questions their own witness). The second part of their testimony is called cross examination (questioning by opposing counsel). The third part of their testimony is called redirect examination (where the prosecutor tries to clean up the mess created by defense counsel after cross examination). After the State has called all their witnesses and presented all evidence in their case-in-chief, the State will rest.
  4. Defendant’s Case: After the State rests, the Defense may call its own witnesses and present its own evidence. A defendant may also choose to testify, though he is not required to do so. A defendant should speak with his or her attorney in making this decision, but the decision to testify lies solely with the defendant. After Defense calls all its witnesses and presents all its evidence, the Defense will rest.
  5. State’s Rebuttal: The State may call rebuttal witnesses after the Defense rests. This does not always happen.
  6. Closing Statements: After both parties have rested, the jury hears closing arguments. The State gives their closing first, then the Defense, and then the State may have the last word.
  7. Deliberation: After completion of evidence and argument, the jury will be read their final jury instructions and begin deliberation in secret. The deliberation process can take 5 minutes, 5 days, or several weeks. It simply depends on the nature of the case and status of deliberations. During deliberations, the jury may submit questions to the judge and attorneys. Sometimes these questions can be answered. Other times, for legal or evidentiary reasons, the questions cannot be answered. If a jury cannot unanimously agree on a verdict, a mistrial will be declared. This means the case can be retried (start all over again).
  8. Verdict: When a jury reaches a verdict, they file into the courtroom and provide their verdict forms to the clerk of the court. The clerk then reads the verdict forms aloud. The jury must unanimously vote guilty or not guilty on each pending count to have a verdict.

Frequently Asked Questions about Felony Cases in Superior Court

Here are some frequently asked questions about felony cases in Arizona:
  • How long does a felony case take?

    The length of a case usually depends on the charge. The average for a felony case is 4-6 months. If the case is complex (homicide or major sex case), then the case can take over a year.

  • If I’m charged with a felony, do I have to go to prison?

    No. Many of our felony clients never spend a day in jail or prison. Besides securing not-guilty verdicts at trial, felony cases can sometimes be dismissed before trial. Other felony cases resolve by probation plea.

  • How can I get a good plea if I am charged with a felony?

    Plea negotiations require good communication with the prosecutor, knowledge of weaknesses in the State’s case, and presentation of mitigation. If you simply beg for a good plea, you’re not going to get one. Prosecutors need valid reasons to extend good plea offers. Your attorney should be able to provide those reasons.

  • Should I take a plea or go to trial?

    The decision to take a plea or go to trial is always the defendant’s decision. Attorneys can assist in making that decision. To know whether to take a plea or go to trial a defendant should consider the plea agreement, what they are facing at trial, the strength of the State’s case/evidence, and the strength of the defendant’s defenses. If you have concerns or doubts, talk to your attorney about scheduling a settlement conference to get your questions answered.

Frequently Asked Questions For A Class 6 Undesignated Felony Offense

  • How can I get a felony off my record with a 6 open?

    A class 6 undesignated felony offense is also often referred to as a 6 “open” felony. In Arizona, felony offenses are categorized between 1 and 6, with 1 being the most serious felony offenses and 6 being the lowest, or least serious, category of felonies. Under Arizona law (A.R.S. §13-604), so long as the offense is not a “dangerous offense,” a judge may leave a class 6 felony offense undesignated or “open” at the time of sentencing if “it would be unduly harsh to sentence the defendant for a felony.” An undesignated class 6 offense is treated as a felony for all purposes until a court enters an order designating the offense a misdemeanor. This means that, while the offense is treated as a felony for now, it is “undesignated” which allows the possibility that it can eventually be designated a misdemeanor offense instead of a felony. This is done to create an incentive to successfully complete probation and “earn” a misdemeanor.

  • What do I have to do to have my 6 open designated a misdemeanor?

    First, you have to successfully complete probation. You have to comply with all the terms and conditions of probation, pay all of your fines or court fees, and have your probation successfully terminated.

    Once you have successfully completed probation, it’s important to remember that your class 6 “open” felony does not automatically become a misdemeanor. The court has to be designated it as such, which requires a motion or an application to the Court asking a Judge to designate the open 6 felony as a misdemeanor.

  • Who is eligible for reducing a class 6 undesignated felony to a misdemeanor?

    Under Arizona law, you are eligible to have your felony reduced to a misdemeanor if:

    1. The felony of which you were convicted was left undesignated at the time of sentencing.
    2. Prior to this case, you did not have two other felony convictions on your record.
    3. The felony in question did not involve intentionally or knowingly inflicting serious injury to another person.
    4. The felony in question did not involve the use of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument.
  • Are there some class 6 open felonies that are not eligible to be designated as a misdemeanor?

    Yes. The class 6 felony cannot be one that involved the intentional or knowing infliction of serious physical injury and it cannot be an offense that involved the discharge, use or threatening exhibition of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument. Arizona law defines “deadly weapon” anything designed for lethal use, including a firearm and a “dangerous instrument” means anything that under the circumstances in which it is used is readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury.

  • Is there anything else that can disqualify me from a 6 open?

    A class 6 felony offense can only be undesignated and potentially turned into a misdemeanor if it’s your first or second felony. If you have more than 2 felony convictions, you’re not eligible to have an undesignated class 6 felony designated a misdemeanor.

  • Why does it matter if my class 6 open felony is designated a misdemeanor?

    Having a felony conviction on your records is much worse than having a misdemeanor on your record. A felony conviction is much more serious than a misdemeanor conviction and carries with it harsher collateral consequences. A felony conviction can result in the loss of many of your civil rights like your right to vote and to possess a firearm. It can also have negative impacts on employment, immigration status, and harsher sentencing possibilities. You can avoid the negative consequences of “being a felon” by having your class 6 open felony designated as a misdemeanor.

  • Do the attorneys at Alcock & Associates get 6-opens for their clients?

    Yes. The attorneys at Alcock & Associates can often get higher level felonies negotiated down to a class 6 undesignated felony in order to give our clients the best chance at earning a misdemeanor and walking away without a felony on their record.

  • Does Alcock & Associates handle Motions to Designate an Undesignated Felony as a Misdemeanor?

    Yes. If you have completed or are getting close to completing your probation, give us a call and we can help you get that felony designated a misdemeanor.

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