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Your Tucson Criminal Case: The Basics

Your husband calls you in the middle of the night. He went out with his co-workers and never came home. Now you know why. He was arrested for fighting after a night of bar hopping in downtown on E. Congress Street.

The Pima County Sheriff locked him up in jail somewhere and now it's become your job to bail him out. What should you do? What is going to happen to him? Is he going to prison?

Since arrests occur in so many different situations, it is difficult to predict exactly what will happen. This article provides general information about what to expect in most cases if you are arrested in the "Old Pueblo."

The Criminal Justice Process

Getting arrested can be a frightening time. You'll have had contact with the Tucson Police Department, the Highway Patrol, or the Pima County Sheriff. Rest assured tough despite what you may have seen on television or in the movies, the police must follow several rules. If they don't, it could jeopardize the state's case against you.

You should be read your Miranda rights. Then, the police have two options: take you to jail for booking or release you with a promise to appear at a later date. If you're taken into custody, you'll either be released on your own recognizance or you'll have to post bail. Bail is money that you have to pay to the courts in order to be released from jail pending trial. You usually have to put up 10% of the total amount of bail the judge sets in your case in order to get out.

First Court Appearance

Next, you'll be arraigned within 24 hours of your arrest at one of Tucson's courts. When you go in front of the judge you may feel quite intimidated, particularly if this is your first time in the system. You aren't the only one. Courtrooms aren't welcoming places. However, knowing what will probably happen may ease your fears.

The judge will call you before the court. Then, he or she will read the charges against you and may readjust your bail. Sometimes accused persons are released to third parties or Pretrial Services for pretrial supervision. You'll also enter a plea of guilty, no contest, or not guilty. If you plead not guilty, you will have the option of hiring a lawyer, representing yourself, or asking for the Pima County Public Defender.

Felony Cases

Felonies are serious crimes that carry huge penalties including years of prison time, large fines, and major repercussions for the rest of your life. Major felonies include robbery, murder, rape, forgery, fraud, and distributing illegal drugs.

Probable Cause Hearing

You'll have either a preliminary hearing or a grand jury hearing. Why? Essentially, the court wants to determine if there is "probable cause" to send you to trial.

Grand Jury

Most Tucson felony cases will proceed via a grand jury hearing. A Deputy County Attorney will present evidence about your case to 16 people on the Grand Jury panel. After hearing the evidence, they meet in the absence of the officers, attorneys, and witnesses. If they decide there is probable cause, a "True Bill" or Indictment (charging document) is returned. If the Grand Jury determines there is not enough evidence, a "No Bill" is returned. The case can be re-presented to the Grand Jury at any time.

Preliminary Hearing

Preliminary hearings rarely occur in Pima County. If your case does go to a preliminary hearing, a judge will hear the evidence and determine if there's probable cause to believe you have committed the offense. If the judge "holds you to answer" for the charges, she'll set a trial date and you'll be arraigned again. If it's a grand jury, a majority of the panel must believe sufficient evidence is present to return an indictment (formal charge) to the court.

Time Limits

Arizona requires that a person accused of committing a crime must have a preliminary hearing within 10 days if he is in custody, or within 20 days if he is released, unless the Grand Jury makes an earlier determination of probable cause.

Arraignment, Again

If you are held to answer for the charges, you'll have another arraignment. Most people plead "not guilty," and the case gets set for a case management conference.

Alternatives: Drug Court and Adult Diversion

If you are arrested for a drug crime (possession or sale of illegal, narcotic, or prescription drugs) you may be eligible to participate in Drug Court. This is a voluntary, one-year supervised treatment program. Act fast though. You will have to decide to participate within two weeks of your arrest.

For some cases, you can also enter a Diversion program. If you have no previous criminal record and the pending charges are non-violent and non-drug related, you may be considered for the Pima County Adult Diversion Program. This program helps rehabilitate offenders via counseling, education, restitution, and community service. If you complete a one or two year program, usually the charges will be dropped. Avoid further trouble during the program, though. Prosecution could resume and you could be sentenced, otherwise.

Case Management

If drug court or diversion doesn't apply to you, you'll have a case management conference within 50 days after your second arraignment. The prosecutor and defense attorney meet in the judge's chambers to discuss your case and sometimes enter a plea bargain. Your attorney will have an opportunity to gather information from the prosecution, explore that evidence, and possibly resolve your case without a trial.


If you go to trial, the prosecution must prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

You automatically have the right to a jury trial where twelve randomly selected members of the community decide your guilt or innocence. Both the prosecutor and defense will present evidence. Remember, you can't be compelled to testify. If the jury finds you guilty, the judge will sentence you.

Criminal cases can have a serious, lasting impact on your life. You have options and rights. Anyone charged with an offense should at least consider consulting a skilled attorney.

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