Home \ Justice Courts, City / Municipal Courts & Superior Courts in Arizona
Are you facing criminal charges before a court in Phoenix, Arizona? Do not hesitate to call the criminal defense lawyers at Orent Law Offices for immediate assistance. With over 30 years of experience representing clients in courts across Arizona, our team knows what it will take to secure the best possible outcome in your case. We offer a free consultation, so give our law office a call to schedule yours today.
For those not working in the legal profession, the Arizona court system can seem confusing. This is because the courts often have multiple levels, and some may be limited in the types of cases they can hear.
Now, Arizona state courts are classified into one of the following three divisions:
Courts of limited jurisdiction: includes Justice of the Peace courts and Municipal (or City) courts. These courts are restricted in the types of cases they can hear. Examples of matters commonly handled in these courts would be probate, small claims, traffic citations, and other petty offenses committed in their city. Municipal courts share jurisdiction with justice courts over state law violations.
Courts of general jurisdiction: refers to the statewide trial court. There is at least one in every county and these courts can hear a variety of cases. Note that if you wish to appeal a decision from a court of limited jurisdiction, it must first be reviewed by a court of general jurisdiction.
Appellate courts: includes the Court of Appeals and the Arizona Supreme Court. Most cases from trial courts may be first appealed to an Appellate Court. Exceptions to this rule include:
Cases that fall under one of these exceptions are not reviewed by the Appellate Court and would instead go straight to the state Supreme Court. Note that there are two appellate divisions in Arizona – one in Phoenix and one in Tucson, However, the state only has one Supreme Court.
With that in mind, most incorporated towns in Arizona have a Municipal Court. Note that these courts may also be referred to as Magistrate Courts.
Now, cases at these courts are heard by either a magistrate or a municipal court judge. The court typically employs one or more court clerks to provide clerical assistance. These judges are appointed by the City. Keep in mind that there are some differences between towns regarding what types of cases these courts have jurisdiction over. As discussed, jurisdiction refers to the ability to rule on the particular subject matter that is at issue in a case.
As you might expect, Phoenix has the largest city court in the state. Its jurisdiction is limited to civil traffic cases, criminal traffic violations, and misdemeanor criminal cases. A criminal misdemeanor in Arizona is an offense where the penalty does not exceed 6 months in jail and/or $2,500 in fines.
This means that individuals facing more jail time and fines would not be able to have their case heard in City Court. In other words, City Courts lack the jurisdiction to hear felony cases. That said, common criminal cases the city court handles includes:
Keep in mind that if you lose your case at the City Court level and wish to appeal, the next step would be to request a review by the Superior Court.
Now, while the Arizona Superior Court hears City Court appeals, it also has the authority to decide cases that can’t initially be brought in City Court.
In fact, superior courts have the authority to rule on a variety of serious criminal charges. Examples include:
Keep in mind that Maricopa County alone has ten Superior Court branches. Most of these are in Phoenix, and there are additional juvenile and probation centers that operate within the Superior Court.
In Maricopa County, the Juvenile Department of the Superior Court has what is known as “delinquency” jurisdiction. This means that the court can rule on matters related to children and juveniles between the ages of 8 and 18.
Delinquency jurisdiction applies to youths that commit crimes. However, keep in mind that minors between the ages of 15 and 18 that commit certain violent offenses may instead be tried in adult criminal court. Note that the Juvenile Department also has authority over youths that are deemed “incorrigible.” This is defined as a minor that is either a truant, runaway, or refuses to obey his or her parents.
In addition to juvenile matters, the Superior Court also has an Adult Probation Department. This department oversees probation matters and is also responsible for providing pretrial services. Pretrial services include setting release conditions after a person is taken into custody for a criminal offense.
Pretrial service options that are available to the Department include supervised or unsupervised release, as well as electronic monitoring. These decisions are typically made based on a person’s criminal history and a risk assessment.
The Department also has a presentence unit. The unit is tasked with reporting to the court prior to sentencing. The report typically includes information about the person convicted of the crime and statements from any victims. The unit may also provide sentencing recommendations.
Victim services is another program offered by the Adult Probation Department. This gives the victims of crimes an opportunity to opt in for things like case updates and notifications, and for any information about restitution amounts that they may be entitled to receive.
Keep in mind that those facing criminal charges in Arizona are subject to similar procedures in both City Court and Superior Court. Remember, if you are involved in a proceeding in either of these courts, you have the right to have an attorney represent you.
With that in mind, it can be helpful to understand how a criminal case moves through the court system in Arizona.
Arrest: First, the process begins with an arrest. This would be based on an officer either witnessing you commit a crime or after a warrant has been issued based on probable cause. Probable cause means that there is some reason to believe that you were involved in the crime.
Initial Appearance: After your arrest, the first time you will appear in court is during what is known as the “initial appearance.” This must occur within 24 hours of your arrest. You will be delivered a copy of a document known as a Summons. The Summons will contain the date and time that you will need to go to court. It will also provide information about the court – such as City Court or Superior Court – and its location.
At the initial appearance, you will be made aware of the charges against you. You will also be informed of your right to remain silent and to have an attorney represent you. The judge will also explain that if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed. The court will then determine the conditions for your release. As part of this process, a bail amount may be set.
Preliminary Hearing: Following the initial appearance, the court will schedule a preliminary hearing. At the hearing, your attorney and the prosecutor will each have an opportunity to present evidence. The judge will then decide whether or not the prosecution has a strong enough case in which to proceed to trial. If the court orders the matter to proceed, an arraignment date will be set.
Arraignment: During the arraignment, you will enter your plea of either guilty, not guilty, or no contest. Note that pleading not guilty and no contest has the same effect. The major difference is that a plea of no contest cannot be used as evidence of your guilt in any subsequent civil case. If you plead not guilty, the court will then set a trial date. Otherwise, the court will schedule a date for sentencing.
Trial: If your case proceeds to trial, your attorney and the prosecutor will present their case. This includes all evidence of your guilt and innocence, including documents, photographs, and witness testimony. There will also be opening and closing statements, followed by jury deliberations, and finally, a verdict.
Sentencing: After the trial, if you are convicted of the crime, the court will hold a sentencing hearing. At the hearing, a judge will determine an appropriate punishment for you based on information provided by the prosecution and the range of sentencing options provided by state law. Note that in cases where a judge decides that the death penalty could be applied, sentencing must be decided by a jury.
Appeals; Once sentencing has completed, you have the option of appealing the decision. Keep in mind that only defendants can appeal criminal cases. In other words, the prosecution cannot have the matter reviewed by a higher court if you are found not guilty.
As you can see, facing criminal charges in Arizona courts is a serious matter. Even if you are facing a minor misdemeanor offense, a conviction of any kind will stay on your record and can impact your future.
For that reason, you will want an experienced criminal law attorney on your side. Do not hesitate to call the Orent Law Offices to learn more about how we can help you through this challenging time. Call us today for a free consultation to get started.