Have you been arrested for drunk driving, aggressive driving, or other driving offenses in Phoenix? If so, you’ll need a Phoenix criminal defense attorney who has experience handling matters before a municipal court. Even though these crimes tend to be less serious than those tried in Superior Court, a conviction can still be devastating.
Contact the Orent Law Group for immediate legal assistance. Our Phoenix municipal court attorneys offer a free consultation, so give us a quick call or reach out to us online to schedule yours today.
Note that in Arizona, the type of case you have and where the events occurred will determine what court your case will be heard in. The state has both “limited jurisdiction” and “general jurisdiction” courts.
Municipal courts are limited jurisdiction, which means that they hear cases involving misdemeanor crimes, petty offenses, and traffic cases.
Examples of limited jurisdiction cases include:
These city courts may also hear cases involving violations of city ordinances. Further, the courts can issue Orders of Protection (i.e. restraining orders) and search warrants.
Justice Court is also a limited jurisdiction court. These courts hear cases involving petty offenses and misdemeanors. They also hear cases involving assault and battery, breach of the peace, and conduct preliminary hearings for felony crimes.
By contrast, the Arizona Superior Court is what is known as a general jurisdiction court. This court hears nearly every other case in Arizona that can’t be brought in Municipal Court or Justice Court.
The Phoenix Municipal Court is Arizona’s largest limited jurisdiction court. It handles roughly 160,000 charges each year. These are mainly minor traffic violations, and the court can hear offenses that range up to a class 1 misdemeanor. These misdemeanors carry a potential maximum sentence of up to 6 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
The court is located at 300 West Washington Street in the Valdemar A. Cordova Building.
One of the more common charges that end up in Phoenix Municipal Court is Driving Under the Influence (DUI). In Arizona, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or any other drug that impairs your ability to drive. The legal limit in the state is 0.08, which means that if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is over this amount you may be charged with a DUI. Your BAC is usually determined with a breathalyzer device by an officer during a traffic stop.
However, note that you can also be charged with a DUI if your BAC is less than the legal limit. Specifically, this rule applies if your BAC is between 0.05 and 0.08 and there is other evidence that you are impaired. An example would be if you failed a field sobriety test.
For a first-time DUI, the state considers the offense a Class 1 misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for a Class 1 Misdemeanor includes:
Your driver’s license may also be suspended for up to one year. After a conviction, you may also be required to have an Ignition Interlock Device installed on your vehicle. The device requires you to blow into a breathalyzer to measure your BAC before the vehicle will start. Finally, you may be required to attend a drug or alcohol assessment and attend alcohol education classes.
Now, the charge is more serious if you have more than 3 DUI offenses on your record within the last 7 years. The state considers this to be a class 4 felony, and it would no longer be a case in Municipal Court. Instead, the charges would be filed and heard in Superior Court.
In addition to DUIs, the Municipal Court also hears cases involving basic traffic violations. These include both civil and criminal offenses. Note that civil violations are considered less serious than criminal charges and carry less severe penalties. Examples include:
The penalties for civil traffic violations tend to involve a fine and points being added to your license. Keep in mind that points can cause your insurance premiums to increase. They may also lead to the suspension of your driver’s license if you accumulate too many. As an alternative, the court may give you the option of Attending Defensive Driving school. This could lead to the charge being dismissed and no points added to your license.
Now, when you are issued a ticket, you have a few options.
You can plead guilty to the charges by admitting fault or you can plead not guilty and deny that you committed the violation. You also have a third option of pleading what is called “no contest,” which means that you accept the punishment associated with a conviction without admitting any wrongdoing.
This option is generally done to avoid the use of your conviction as evidence of fault in a subsequent lawsuit. An example might be if you ran a red light and collided with another driver who then brought a personal injury case against you.
Note that If you do not accept the fine or attend Defensive Driving School, this would have the effect of a plea of not guilty. In this case, you must appear in Municipal Court. First, you will attend the scheduled arraignment. At the arraignment, the court will read the charges against you and set a date for the hearing.
At the hearing, you will present your side of the story to a Hearing Officer or Judge. The police officer that issued you the citation will also have an opportunity to present his or her version of the facts. There may also be other witnesses that will testify, either for your side or on behalf of the state.
Note that the burden of proof is less in these matters than in a criminal trial. Instead of needing to prove that you committed the violation beyond a reasonable doubt, it must only be shown that it was more likely than not that you committed the offense.
If you are found guilty, the judge will then assess a penalty. It’s important to note that this may be more or less than the original fine on the citation you were issued. This is a risk that you take when going to court.
Now, the process for criminal traffic violations is similar to civil offenses, but the charges are more serious. Examples of these types of violations include:
Due to the nature of these crimes, the resulting penalty for a conviction is greater. This could result in higher fines, possible jail time, and means you are more likely to have your license suspended or revoked.
The same three options apply for entering your plea, but if you choose to plead not guilty, the court will schedule a trial instead of a hearing. At trial, the state’s case will be presented by a prosecutor. The prosecutor must prove that you committed the alleged violation beyond a reasonable doubt. As mentioned, this is a higher burden of proof than in civil cases and means that there exists no other rational explanation for the facts other than you committed the crime.
During the trial, the prosecution will call witnesses to testify and will likely present other evidence. An example might be a readout from the breathalyzer device in a DUI case. You will also have the opportunity to present your own witness and evidence and cross-examine the witnesses testifying for the prosecution.
You also have the option of testifying on your own behalf. However, you are not legally required to take the stand, and the prosecution can’t compel you to do so. But, keep in mind that if you do decide to testify, the prosecution can cross-examine you in an attempt to discredit your statements. For that reason, it’s critically important to be prepared for trial. There is a tremendous amount at stake in these cases and this is your one and only chance to get key evidence in.
Both civil and criminal traffic cases can get complicated. But, fortunately, you don’t need to go it alone. You have the right to legal representation whenever you are charged with a crime or civil infraction in Phoenix, AZ.
If you do decide to have a Phoenix criminal defense attorney represent you, you must notify the court at least 10 days prior to the hearing or trial. For that reason, it’s important to not delay in reaching out to our law firm. No case is too small and we’ll handle everything from a routine speeding ticket to felony charges. Contact our Phoenix criminal defense lawyers today for a free consultation.