Overview of the Criminal Court System

Daniel J. DeRienzo

In Arizona, criminal court procedure is governed by statutes and the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure. Many are quite complex. Each County and each individual court has their own way of handling criminal cases. It is important that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are involved in the criminal justice system.

Whether you have been arrested for a misdemeanor or felony offense, we have the experience and resources to handle all aspects of your criminal case. Contact The Law Office of Dan DeRienzo, PLLC, at 928-493-1177 or click here for a consultation.

Preliminary Proceedings

The Complaint

The criminal process begins with the filing or a formal complaint by law enforcement. Complaints may be filed either before or after an arrest is made. In a misdemeanor case, the complaint contains the charges.

In a felony case, the actual charges are contained in the Indictment or Information. The charges contained in the Indictment or Information may or may not be the charges law enforcement used in the complaint. The reason for this is because the County Attorney may decide to bring additional charges or reduced charges to the Grand Jury. In addition, sometimes (but not often) the Grand Jury may find probable cause for charges other than those contained in the felony complaint.

If you have been issued a complaint, please contact the Law Office of Dan DeRienzo immediately. Do not wait until your first court appearance. In many of the lower courts, you may be required to meet with the prosecutor at your first court appearance. Many things could go wrong at this meeting. In addition, you may feel pressured to take a plea agreement.

Even if you choose to represent yourself, it is important to at least consult with an attorney to discuss what you may expect at your first court appearance and whether there are any possible defenses to your case.

Contact The Law Office of Dan DeRienzo, PLLC, at 928-493-1177 or click here for a consultation.

Initial Appearance

Within 24 hours of an arrest, a defendant must be brought before a magistrate for an initial appearance. At the initial appearance, the court will read the charges and set bail.

In some cases, a defendant is released on his own recognizance (OR) or is released by posting bail. This is not a guarantee that your bail will remain the same or that the OR release will not be revoked. In Yavapai County, judges will on their own increase bail after an Indictment by a Grand Jury (I have never seen them lower a bail amount).

Indictment or Information

In felony cases, the only way charges can be filed in Superior Court is by Indictment or Information.


An Indictment is when the County Attorney brings the case before a Grand Jury. A Grand Jury then decides whether there is probable case that a crime has been committed and that the defendant committed it. These proceedings are held in a closed session. Neither the defendant nor his attorney is allowed to be present. However, an attorney is able to request that a defendant be allowed to testify at the Grand Jury proceeding. In addition, an attorney can also make a written request that exculpatory evidence be presented to the Grand Jury. If the state then fails to provide such evidence, the Indictment can be challenged.

It is therefore important to contact an attorney prior to the Indictment. If you believe that you are the target of a criminal investigation or that you may be charged with a crime, click in the link below to read about representation during the Pre-Indictment stage.


An Information is a charging document filed after a Preliminary Hearing. A Preliminary Hearing is when a judge decides whether there is probable case that a crime has been committed and that the defendant committed it. The defendant and his attorney are allowed to be present and to present evidence.

Certain counties use a Grand Jury, other Counties use the Preliminary Hearing. It is important to contact an attorney early in the proceeding in order to discuss these proceedings.

Early Disposition Court (EDC)

Early Disposition Court is used in certain counties to get a person charged with a crime to court before either an indictment or an Information is filed. EDC is usually held prior to either a Grand Jury Indictment or a Preliminary Hearing. EDC was designed to get defendants to plead guilty at their first appearance at court. If they plead guilty, there is no need for either a Preliminary Hearing or a Grand Jury Proceeding. It is designed to save the county time and money.

At EDC, defendants have very little time to meet with a court appointed attorney or Public Defender, who they often meet for the first time at EDC. Defendants have very little time to review the police reports or to discuss possible defenses to the charges with their attorney. Defendants are often pressured to accept the state’s plea offer and are often sentenced before they have even had a chance to consider (much less challenge) the evidence against them.

If you have been ordered by a judge or magistrate to attend EDC, contact the Law Office of Daniel J. DeRienzo immediately. Even if you decide not to hire an attorney and choose to either represent yourself or request a Public Defender, I will discuss your case with you in a quiet setting before EDC and advise you about the benefits and potential serious pitfalls of EDC.

Many people plead guilty at EDC because they are rushed to make a hasty decision. A proper defense requires that you be provided all of the police reports, see all of the evidence to be used against you including lab reports, ballistic reports, blood or breath reports, etc. These are often not available at EDC. In addition, a proper defense requires that witnesses be interviewed and an investigation be made. Even if you decide to plead guilty, the first offer is made by a charging deputy at the Office of the County Attorney who does not know all the facts and certainly does not take into consideration the individuality of the defendant.

If you have been set for EDC, contact the Law Office of Dan DeRienzo by calling 928-493-1177 or click here for a consultation.