May
06

Criminal Trials and Guilty Pleas

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A criminal case may be resolved either by a guilty verdict following trial or by the entry of a guilty (or no contest) plea. Both result in a criminal conviction.

A defendant who proceeds to trial is entitled to representation if he/she is unable to afford an attorney. As in civil cases, the defendant makes all the substantive decisions about the case after receiving advice from defense counsel. The criminal case then proceeds to discovery. The criminal discovery rules are very liberal. There is no trial by ambush in Arizona; both parties have a duty to disclose prior to trial. The trial court has broad discretion to sanction parties who fail to timely disclose witnesses or required discoverable material. Following discovery, the state might offer the defendant a plea. In the event of a plea offer, the negotiations can be extensive and time consuming.

If the defendant proceeds to trial, the state is bound by strict time deadlines. The rules of
evidence apply in a criminal trial, unlike in an administrative hearing. The state has the burden of proving each element of a criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the highest standard of proof (much higher than the preponderance of the evidence standard applied in administrative hearings). The defendant is not required to testify and the jurors are instructed that they cannot consider the defendant’s silence in deciding the case. The defendant is entitled to an 8-person jury when the possible sentence is under 30 years. The defendant is entitled to a 12-person jury for capital offenses and cases that carry a possible sentence of 30 years or more. The jury verdict must be unanimous to either convict or acquit the defendant. If the jury is “hung”, the state can retry the defendant.

A defendant who enters a guilty or no contest plea is afforded significant constitutional
protections under the United States and Arizona Constitutions. These protections are codified in the Arizona statutes and in the Rules of Criminal Procedure. The trial court is required to advise a defendant of his or her rights and the consequences of pleading guilty or no contest. Rule 17.2. Ariz. R. Crim. P. The trial court must determine whether the defendant knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently entered the plea. The defendant is questioned in detail, on the record, in the trial court regarding whether any force, threats, or promises were made to induce the plea. The defendant must also provide the trial court with the “factual basis” for the plea; meaning the defendant must admit that he/she committed the elements of the offense. The failure of the trial court to follow the rules of criminal procedure may be grounds for setting aside the plea. The Arizona Supreme Court has rejected a defendant’s later claim that he pled guilty, but did not mean what he had avowed to the court, because accepting the claim would in effect mean that the trial court condoned perjury.

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Categories : Criminal Law

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The Arizona Defense Law Blog is published by Phoenix DUI and criminal defense attorney Joshua S. Davidson. Nothing on this website is intended to create an Attorney-Client relationship and the information provided herein is for general information purposes only.

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