Pima County Criminal Justice System

Hiring a criminal defense attorney is different from hiring any other kind of attorney. The individual needing to hire a criminal defense attorney is someone facing criminal charges, often for the first time. That individual is often either in jail, or has been recently released from jail. In all criminal cases, that individual is facing the prospect of either jail or prison time. It is quite common for an individual facing criminal prosecution for the first time to be extraordinarily frightened.

In order to properly retain a criminal defense attorney, an individual facing criminal prosecution should be well aware of the attorney's experience, reputation, and ability to spend the appropriate amount of time on his or her case.

The following describes what can be expected in all kinds of criminal cases:

United States District Court

If you are being prosecuted for a federal case and you are out of custody, you should consider yourself lucky. The majority of federal clients are held without bond. If you are out of custody, there is a good chance that you could resolve your case without doing any significant jail or prison time.

Federal cases are prosecuted by the United States Attorney. There is no right to disclosure of the government's evidence, but the federal prosecutor routinely gives disclosure if the defendant decides to waive a preliminary hearing. Since there is a greater advantage to obtaining disclosure than there is to having a preliminary hearing, it is often (but not always) to your advantage to waive the preliminary hearing and receive disclosure. This way, if your case proceeds to trial, you will know completely and fully the strength of the government's case against you.

Federal cases all fall under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Several years ago the United States Government decided to standardize and federalize all potential prison sentences. The guidelines contain a chart indicating the approximate sentence the person will receive. On the left-hand of the chart is a list of offense levels, based on the offense you are being accused of, as well as the quantity of drugs (if it is a drug case) or several other enhancing factors. The top part of the chart is divided into six criminal history categories. Every person accused of a federal crime will find himself or herself in one of those six categories, depending on the extensiveness of the criminal history. By approximating where the two portions of the chart meet, the individual will then get a range of what he or she is looking at in terms of his or her sentence.

Pima County Superior Court

Pima County Superior Court is responsible for all felony prosecutions, other than those in the federal system. These include everything from first degree murder to aggravated driving under the influence. The Pima County Attorney's Office prosecutes all felony crimes in Pima County not covered by the federal system.

Superior Court cases also have standardized sentencing schemes, as outlined in state statutes. Felonies are divided into six categories, going from class 1 felonies to class 6 felonies, with the lower number being the more serious offense. Certain offenses are probation available, although there are offenses which are not probation available, and dictate mandatory prison time.

The Pima County Attorney gives full disclosure of its evidence, police reports and statements to defendants. A preliminary hearing does not need to be waived, but the County Attorney has the option of whether to take the case to a preliminary hearing or in front of the grand jury. The defendant and his or her attorney have no right to appear in front of the grand jury, although the defendant does have the right to appear at a preliminary hearing.

Pima County Justice Court

Pima County Justice Court is responsible for the prosecution of all misdemeanor offenses occurring outside of the city limits of Tucson, South Tucson, Marana, Sahuarita or Oro Valley. These can include domestic violence, assault, theft, driving under the influence, and other crimes. The Pima County Attorney prosecutes misdemeanor offenses in Pima County Justice Court.

Pima County Juvenile Court

The Pima County Attorney's Office has a subdivision at Pima County Juvenile Court, which prosecutes all misdemeanors and felonies allegedly committed by juveniles in Pima County. Juvenile convictions are called "adjudications," and are not specifically criminal in nature, although the Criminal Rules of Procedure apply in Pima County Juvenile Court.

Pima County Juvenile Court has an entirely different procedure than the adult court. Since the procedure and the laws are different in juvenile court than they are in adult court, a juvenile facing prosecution should carefully choose an attorney who has extensive experience in juvenile court. Retaining an attorney with no juvenile experience can often result in an unfavorable disposition of a case because of the significant differences in the courts.

Tucson City Court

Tucson City Court is the forum for the prosecution of all misdemeanor offenses occurring within the Tucson city limits. The prosecuting agency in Tucson City Court is the Tucson City Prosecutor's Office. The Tucson City Prosecutor's Office prosecutes misdemeanors such as domestic violence, assault, theft, driving under the influence, and others. Some of these offenses contain potential jail time, and some of them entitle the defendant to a jury trial. The same procedure applies in the municipal courts for South Tucson, Marana, Oro Valley and Sahuarita.