If You Have Been Charged With A Criminal Offense

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Do you need a lawyer?

You must answer this question for yourself. You may either represent yourself or hire an attorney. If the prosecutor's office is seeking a sentence that includes a jail term, or if a statute authorizes a jury trial and you cannot afford an attorney, you may ask the court to have a court-appointed attorney represent you. If the court is considering appointing an attorney, you will need to complete an application. An examination of your financial status will be made to determine whether or not you are entitled to the appointment of an attorney. You may be ordered to pay a portion of the attorney's cost, if one is appointed for you.

You should inform the judge if you already have an attorney or plan to hire one, or if you are requesting that the Court appoint an attorney to represent you.

If you choose to defend yourself, please carefully consult the information given here regarding trial procedure and the proper way to present your case.

Arraignment

If you were given a complaint (or a ticket) by an officer, the arraignment date will be the appearance date on your complaint. If you received a summons from the court, either by mail or personal service, your arraignment date will be the court date indicated on your summons. You must appear in court on the date and time indicated. Your failure to appear at any scheduled court appearance could result in the issuance of a warrant for your arrest.

Under Arizona law, you can be brought to trial only after a formal complaint has been filed. The complaint is a document that states the criminal charge against you and alleges that your action(s) was/were unlawful. A copy of the complaint against you may have been given to you by the officer when you were cited. If not, it will be given to you at your arraignment.

No testimony will be taken at arraignment and no witnesses will be present unless your case involved a "victim" who has asked to be present. The judge at arraignment will not grant a defendant's request to dismiss any charges. Instead, you must decide upon a plea and enter your plea to the charge against you.

There are three possible pleas to a criminal charge:

  1. Guilty
  2. No Contest (nolo contendere)
  3. Not Guilty

Your decision on which plea to enter is one of the most important decisions you will have to make at your arraignment. You are encouraged to read the following explanations before entering your plea.

Plea Of Guilty

A plea of "guilty" means that you admit that you committed the act charged in the complaint, that the act is prohibited by law, and that you have no legal defense for your act. If you wish to enter a plea of guilty, the judge may take your plea at that time, or schedule a hearing to do so at a later date. 

If you were involved in a traffic accident at the time of the alleged offense, your plea of guilty could be used later in a civil suit for damages as an admission by you relative to the question of fault.

Plea Of No Contest

A plea of "no contest," also known as nolo contendere, means that you are not admitting or denying guilt. You are saying that you do not wish to contest the state's charge against you. Upon a plea of no contest, the judge will impose a sentence as if you had pleaded guilty.

If you enter a plea of no contest, you may be sentenced following the judge's acceptance of your plea, or you may be sentenced at a later date.

Plea Of Not Guilty

A plea of "not guilty" means that you are informing the court that you deny guilt and that the state (in the Sedona Municipal Court, the state is represented by the City Prosecutor's Office) must prove the criminal charge against you beyond a reasonable doubt. Under our American system of justice, all criminal defendants are presumed to be innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

If you plead not guilty, you must decide whether to hire an attorney or ask the court to appoint one to represent you.  Many cases in the municipal court do not qualify for court-attorneys.  If your case is eligible, you must also file a financial statement indicating that you are indigent to qualify. You may represent yourself, but no one except you or your attorney may represent you in court. 

On a plea of not guilty, a pre-trial disposition conference (PTC) will be scheduled for you to meet with prosecutor and discuss possible resolution of your case without the necessity of a trial. If your case can't be resolved at the PTC, a trial date will be set for a later date. At trial, the State will be required to present evidence to prove all charges against you beyond a reasonable doubt before there can be a finding of guilt.

Diversion Programs

For some types of offenses, diversion programs are offered by the City Prosecutor's Office, which provide an alternative to the normal trial process, and which may result in a dismissal of the criminal charge against you. If you are eligible for these programs, you will be given information at your PTC.

Pre-Trial Disposition Conference (PTC)

At the PTC, you or your attorney will have an opportunity to meet with the prosecutor to review the facts supporting the state's criminal charges against you. At this time, you may review any written police reports and a list of any evidence that the state intends to use at the trial. Witnesses generally do not attend the PTC, and no testimony is taken. However, victims do have the right to be present.

You have three plea options at PTC:

  1. You may plead guilty and accept any settlement offer from the prosecutor, which may contain a recommended sentence which you would receive upon acceptance of the offer;
  2. You may reject any offer by the prosecutor and change your plea of not guilty to guilty or no contest, and then be subject to the sentence determined by the judge;
  3. You can maintain your plea of not guilty and have the case assigned a date for trial.

Trial

Depending on the alleged offense, you may be entitled to a trial by jury. If you are not entitled to a jury trial, the trial will be heard and decided by a judge.

You are entitled to hear all testimony and review all evidence introduced against you.

You have a right to cross-examine any witness who testifies against you. You have a right to testify on your own behalf. You also have a constitutional right not to testify. If you choose not to testify, your refusal will not be used against you in determining your guilt or innocence. However, if you do choose to testify, the prosecutor will have the right to cross-examine you and among other things, may inquire about any past criminal record or other information that may reflect upon your credibility as a witness.

You may call witnesses to testify on your behalf. You have the right to have the court issue subpoenas for witnesses to ensure their appearance at trial. However, you must furnish the completed court subpoena forms with the names and addresses of these witnesses to the court well in advance of your trial (at least 20 days) so that the subpoenas can be properly served.  Subpoena forms may be obtained at the court.

Presenting The Case

If you are represented by an attorney, the attorney will advise you regarding the presentation of your case. If you are not represented, you need to be aware of the following:

  • The state will present its case first by calling witnesses to testify against you. A witness must testify under oath in order for the testimony to be considered.
  • After each prosecution witness has finished giving testimony, you will have the right to cross-examine the witness by asking him or her questions about their testimony. Your examination must be in the form of questions and you must not argue with the witness. Do not attempt to tell your side of the story at this time. You will have an opportunity to do so later.
  • After the prosecution has presented its case, you may present your case, and call witnesses of your choosing. You are not required to call witnesses, unless you choose to do so. All witnesses that are called to help your case can be cross examined by the prosecutor.
  • When it is time for you to present your case, you may testify on your own behalf if you so desire. You are not required to testify. However, if you choose to tell your side of the story, the prosecutor will then have the opportunity to cross examine you.
  • Following your presentation of your witnesses, if any, the prosecutor will have the opportunity to recall any of his or her witnesses on “rebuttal” since the prosecutor must try to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
  • At the end of the trial, you will have an opportunity to summarize your case to the jury, or in a non-jury case, to the judge. At that time, you may present any arguments that are based on the evidence presented during the trial. (This is not considered testimony.)
  • The judgment or verdict will be based on the facts and evidence presented during the trial.

Sentencing

The Judge's ruling will be based upon the testimony and facts presented at your hearing/trial. If you are found "Responsible" (Civil charge) or "Guilty" (Criminal charge), the Judge will indicate what your penalty will be. This penalty may be different from the amount listed on the traffic fine schedule given to you by the Police Officer. If your sentence includes a fine, payment in full is expected on the day of sentencing. Any fine imposed will include a State-mandated surcharge and a Court Technology Enhancement Fee will also be assessed.

The length of any jail sentence, and/or the amount of any fine, fee, or probation assessed by the Court are affected by the facts and circumstances of the case and your prior criminal record. Mitigating circumstances may lower the amount of jail, fine or probation, even if you are guilty. However, aggravating circumstances may also increase the amount of jail, fine or probation.

For some offenses such as Driving Under the Influence (DUI), or Extreme DUI, there are statutory minimum sentences which the Judge must impose. In no instance will sentences exceed the maximum levels of $2,500 fine plus State surcharges, and/or 6 months in jail and/or 3 years probation (5 years for DUI charges) for any one charge.

Payment Of A Monetary Sentence

When the Judge orders you to pay a fine, fee, and/or restitution, payment in full is expected on the day of the sentencing. Under certain circumstances you may be allowed additional time to pay fines or fees. If requesting time to pay, you will be referred to a Court Clerk who will review your financial circumstances in order to determine if a payment contract and schedule for future payments is appropriate. If a payment contract is approved, you will be assessed a mandatory time payment fee.

Failure to comply with the payment schedule will subject you to further court proceedings and possible sanctions, including arrest, for non-compliance. Failure to pay the total balance due may also result in your account being referred to a collection agency, and your delinquent status reported to a credit bureau. If your delinquent account is referred to a collection agency, you will be required to pay a collection fee.

If your traffic charge is marked as a civil violation (other than parking) and you fail to enter a plea, fail to appear on any of your assigned court dates, or fail to comply with the Judge's sentencing requirements, a default judgment of responsible will be entered against you and a fine will be imposed. In addition to the fine amount, you will be assessed a state-mandated time payment fee and a default fee.

Additionally, the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) will be notified that you are in default and MVD may suspend your privilege to drive in Arizona, which may also affect your driving status in other states. If your driver's license is suspended as the result of a default, you will have to pay all amounts owed to the Court as well as an additional fee to MVD to have your license reinstated. If you drive while your license is suspended, you will be subject to serious criminal penalties and arrest, and may have your vehicle impounded. Failure to pay the total balance due may also result in your account being referred to a collection agency, and your delinquent status reported to a credit bureau. If your delinquent account is referred to a collection agency, you will be required to pay a collection fee.

If you fail to pay your parking charge, your vehicle may be booted, towed, and impounded. Additionally, your parking fine will be referred to a collection agency with collection costs to be assessed against you. If your traffic charge is marked as a criminal violation and you fail to appear on any of your assigned court dates, or fail to comply with the Judge's sentencing requirements, a warrant may be issued for your arrest.

Restitution

You may be required to pay restitution for any damage or economic loss suffered by a victim. All restitution payments must be made to the Court for disbursement to the victim.

Any restitution payments made by third parties, including insurance companies, must be paid directly to the Court, or proof of payment must be provided to the Court in order for you to receive proper credit for the payment.

Appeal

By law, you may appeal a final decision of the Court by filing a Notice of Appeal. The appeal must be filed in this Court within fourteen (14) days of the judgment of Responsible/Guilty against you. The Judge will advise you of your appeal rights and may require you to post an appeal bond in order to stop the execution of the sentence imposed upon you.

An appeal is a legal process in which a higher court (Yavapai County Superior Court) reviews the decision of a lower court (Sedona Municipal Court) based on the written transcript of the hearing. You will be responsible for the cost of duplicating the recording in order to advance your appeal. In most cases, an appeal is not a retrial of your case and you cannot present new evidence or testimony.

If you wish to pursue an appeal, you may contact the Sedona Municipal Court for information on the requirements and costs of filing an appeal.

Court Hours:

  • See "Magistrate Court" for the latest published hours.

Court Information Number:

  • See "Magistrate Court" for the latest published phone numbers.

Persons With Disabilities

Request for reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities must be made to the Court at least three (3) days in advance of a scheduled court proceeding.