We hope the following overview helps you as your case moves through the criminal justice system. Understanding what lies ahead may help in communications with your attorney, and provide friends and family members a general idea of how criminal cases move through the system. Our support staff speak Spanish as do many of our attorneys. When required, we will request an interpreter be present to facilitate communications with your attorney and/or the court.
Do not communicate about your case except with your attorney.
Friends, family, strangers, and particularly the police, are not going to be of legal help unless they are witnesses for the defense. When your attorney needs to interview your witnesses, an investigator from our office will contact them. If you talk with anyone other than your attorney about your case, the prosecutor may request that person to testify against you, even if they do not wish to testify. If you write a letter to the judge, it will usually be returned to your attorney, unread. If you write a letter to the prosecutor, that information may be used against you.
If you are released, obey all laws, and if on Pre-Trial Release supervision, abide by conditions of release.
Commission of an additional offense while on pre-conviction release can subject you to additional prison time, in addition to revocation of your release. Failure to report to Pre-Trial Release appointments may result in revocation of your release. Failure to appear in court will usually result in a bench warrant for your arrest.
Do not contact a victim.
A no-contact order means no contact—not through third parties or by any means. You can hurt your case, and jeopardize your liberty.
Contact your attorney and keep your address and phone information updated.
It is your responsibility to communicate with your attorney and assist in your case as much as possible. For clients not in jail, or who are subsequently released, keep your contact information current. If you call in after hours (8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) and get voicemail—speak clearly, stating your name and case number, your attorney’s name if you know it, your telephone number, and briefly, why you are calling. Be sure to check your mail for court notices and legal documents, and read them carefully.
Be on time for court appearances and keep your office visit appointments.
When you come to court, consider your appearance. Judges, jurors, and prosecutors do notice what you wear; so dress appropriately and in good taste. If you are in custody, you will be wearing jail clothes. Either way, show respect to the court. Do not chew gum, make faces, or wear hats, shorts, revealing blouses or tops. The dress code is posted on the division doors. Let your attorney do the talking in court. If you attempt to talk to the court, the judge will direct you to talk with your attorney.
It’s your decision, after a thorough review with your attorney about the facts, law, and sentencing exposure—whether to go to trial, or to enter into a plea agreement. You also decide whether to testify or not testify at trial. It is your attorney’s decision and responsibility, after a thorough review of the facts and the law, as to strategy— filing pretrial motions, which defenses to raise at trial, and investigation of the case. Both you and your attorney work together to resolve the case in a manner most beneficial to you. So get involved with your case. Make notes on your police reports, and discuss the facts with your attorney.
Attorney visits to the Detention Facility
The attorney assigned your case will generally visit you after your arraignment and before your Conditions of Release hearing. By that time, your attorney usually has the police reports and sometimes the COR report done by Pretrial Services. Bring your police report with your notes to the visit.
Whether you are in custody or out on bond or pretrial release, you should know that most felony cases do not resolve quickly, and most result in plea agreements to lesser charges, or dismissal (far less frequently). Your attorney may need additional information in the possession of the prosecutor, may need to interview witnesses, or may need to further research and investigate. In some cases, mental health evaluations are requested. The following is a general overview of the hearings that occur in a felony case.
Defendants will be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest to hear the charges against them, and to set Conditions of Release. Bond will be set or release may be on recognizance, to Pretrial Services supervision, to a third party, or a combination. An indigency examination will determine qualification for appointment of counsel. A preliminary hearing will be set no later than 10 days out for in-custody defendants, and not later than 20 days following the initial appearance if not in custody.
Preliminary Hearing/Grand Jury
Grand juries are used almost exclusively in Yuma County for probable cause determinations. Grand jurors will meet and determine whether to indict based on the facts of the case and the instructions on law. A date will be set for Arraignment on the charges. The preliminary hearing date is vacated.
A Public Defender will be present at the arraignment to enter a not guilty plea for each defendant to whom our office has been appointed. At that time, the next hearing is set for Case Management Conference, and for a Conditions of Release hearing (if release is available—some defendants may have holds pending warrants in other jurisdictions or for other reasons are not eligible for release).
Conditions of Release Hearing (for incarcerated defendants)
Prior to the COR hearing, a Pretrial Services Officer from the Adult Probation Department will visit you to ask questions about length of residence in Yuma County, where and with whom you will reside, employment, and contact information. The information should be included in a report and recommendation to the Judge as to whether bond or pretrial services supervision is appropriate. Please furnish contact information to your attorney for persons you want present at your release hearing.
Case Management Conference
This is a status hearing before the judge hearing the case, where the defense attorney and the state attorney inform the court as to what is happening with the case. If there are discovery issues, the court may transfer the case to the Discovery Master. If there are no discovery issues, then the Case Management Conference may be continued or set for a Final Management Conference or status hearing prior to a Change of Plea or Trial Setting.
Cases are referred to the Discovery Master for the purpose of resolving discovery disputes or for settlement conferences. Once the requested disclosure has been provided or a settlement conference has been conducted, or a change of plea held, the case will be transferred back to the trial court division for trial setting or a change of plea.
Change of Plea
Your plea agreement will have been thoroughly reviewed with you by your attorney prior to the hearing. After the court determines that you understand your constitutional rights, and know that by entering your plea of guilty or no contest you will be giving up those rights, the court will ask for the factual basis supporting your plea. Sometimes the factual basis is written into the plea agreement. You will be asked by the court if you agree with those facts and if so, the court will accept your plea of guilty or no contest. After your plea is accepted, the court will set a date for sentencing, and if out of custody, you will be instructed to report to Probation to set an interview with a Probation Officer for a pre-sentence report. Those who are either in custody or taken into custody are interviewed at the jail by the Probation Officer for a pre-sentence report. (See Pre-sentence Reports)
The trial will be set by the division judge. Your attorney and the prosecutor will estimate the number of days it will take to try the case and the judge will set dates for the Final Trial Management Conference and the trial dates. The judge will issue orders regarding the trial dates and what documents must be filed.
Final Trial Management Conference
The court determines if the parties are ready to proceed to trial and ensures that any pretrial motion hearings are set. The court will also confirm that Final Trial Management Conference Statements have been filed containing names of witnesses to be called, exhibits to be introduced, and the parties’ jury instructions.
Prior to trial, you and your attorney will have spent some time together discussing the case presentation. The first day of trial, jury selection will commence. If time permits, the State will present its case, followed by the defense presentation. You may testify or choose not to. After closing arguments, the jury will retire to deliberate on a verdict. If the verdict is not guilty, you are free to leave. If the verdict is guilty, a sentencing date will be set by the court. Sometimes, for legal reasons, a mistrial occurs. If that happens, the case will generally be re-tried before a new jury.
Prior to sentencing, the court will request Probation to conduct a pre-sentence interview with you for the purpose of making a recommendation to the court. Be sure to talk to your attorney before meeting with them. You may want to review any paperwork the Probation Department has requested to be completed with your attorney.
If you enter a plea of guilty or are found guilty at trial, at sentencing the court may announce its sentencing inclination—the punishment for the offense. Even if there is a stipulation as to sentencing in a plea agreement, the judge can reject the agreement. In that case, the court must give you an opportunity to withdraw from the plea agreement and request assignment to another division. Your charges are automatically reinstated and the process starts anew. In most cases, the judge will follow the plea agreement but there are no guarantees. If there is no agreement for a particular sentence, your attorney may ask for a mitigation hearing. Prior to sentencing, the client should get character references from friends and family and submit them to the attorney. Your attorney can provide Guidelines (in English or Spanish) for reference letters. These Guidelines will provide information as to what to include in a letter.
A mitigation hearing is a proceeding in which the attorney presents witnesses or sometimes a memorandum listing factors the court can consider to reduce the sentence the court has stated it intends to impose. Similarly, the prosecutor may want to present aggravators to the court at this hearing to justify the court’s inclination or to show why the sentence should be increased. Generally, a mitigation/aggravation hearing is followed by sentencing. After sentencing, your representation by the Public Defender is concluded.
In felony cases, a Petition to Revoke Probation is initiated by the Probation Officer. The court may issue a summons directing the probationer to appear, or may issue a warrant for the probationer’s arrest. If a new felony offense is committed while on probation, the probationer will be arrested, and generally held until the matters are resolved.
The probationer makes an initial appearance and is advised of the right to counsel, and the allegations in the Petition to Revoke. If counsel is appointed, the probationer enters a denial to the allegations. The court sets a Probation Violation Conference within 7 days of the initial appearance or service of summons and a Probation Violation Hearing within 20 days of the initial appearance or service of summons.
After conferring with the attorney, the probationer may choose to go to hearing, or to admit the violation. Before any admission, the court will determine that the probationer understands the nature of the violation, right to counsel, right to cross examine witnesses, and present evidence in his behalf.
If the probationer goes to hearing, the violation(s) must be established by a preponderance of the evidence. If the violation is established, the court shall make specific findings of the facts which establish the violation. A disposition hearing is set within 20 days of the determination that a probationer has violated probation. The court will order a predisposition report written by the Probation Department.
At disposition, the court will announce its inclination for sentencing and will pronounce judgment and sentence unless the attorney requests a mitigation hearing. At sentencing following a mitigation hearing, the court will advise the probationer as to appeal or post-conviction rights, whichever are applicable.
If you are found guilty at trial, you may appeal your conviction. A notice of appeal must be filed within 20 days of sentencing. An appellate attorney will be assigned to review your case and will file an appeal with the Court of Appeals, addressing any legal errors that may exist. Very few cases are reversed on appeal.
Often referred to as a Rule 32, you may file a Notice of Post-Conviction Relief after pleading guilty or no contest, or if your probation was automatically violated based upon a plea of guilty or no contest. As with appeals, it is difficult to get a case overturned except on limited, legal grounds. You must file your petition within 90 days of sentencing.
You may also file a Rule 32 application if you have lost both at trial and on appeal. To start a Rule 32, you must file a Notice of Post-Conviction Relief within 90 days of sentencing if you pleaded guilty or admitted a probation violation. If you were convicted after trial and also lost your appeal, you must file your Notice of Post-Conviction Relief within 30 days after the Court of Appeals issues its mandate making your appeal final. Regardless of whether you pleaded guilty or went to trial, you are entitled to a free lawyer to represent you in your first Rule 32 proceeding.
Disclaimer: The foregoing overview is for general information only and is not intended as legal advice. You should consult an attorney if you have a criminal case.