A misdemeanor initial appearance is the first hearing for a misdemeanor prosecution in Arizona.  This hearing is also know as a misdemeanor arraignment. At this hearing, the judge will confirm identity information, explain the charges, a person’s rights, potential penalties and ask for a plea of guilty or not guilty.  Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure (“ARCP”) 4.1 and 4.2 detail this.  In some hardship circumstances, ARCP 17.1 allows a defendant to waive their presence and enter a not guilty plea by mail.

A person who retains counsel prior to this hearing should not have to attend. In fact, counsel’s notice of appearance should vacate the initial appearance. Indeed, it is important to consult with and retain counsel prior to this hearing. Legal counsel will fully protect a person’s rights throughout the process. And, vacate the need for the initial appearance. Always seek advice of counsel prior to attending a hearing alone.

What happens at the Misdemeanor Initial Appearance?

A person who does not retain counsel prior to the initial appearance must attend the hearing. It is important to note, this hearing is not a person’s day in court. Nor is it the time to explain the situation.  Rather, this is the first hearing where the judge is not going to engage in conversation.  As such, a person should fully rely on their right against self-incrimination at this hearing.  Indeed, one should only answer questions the judge asks. 

One should plead Not Guilty at this hearing.  This is important as a person pleading guilty to the Court at an initial appearance gives up significant rights.  Indeed, the person gives up the opportunity to test the State’s evidence.   And a person pleading to the court can never change their mind.   Basically, it is no different than a trial conviction on all counts.  There is no negotiation, and a person faces the maximum sentence for the charge. One does not have much to lose by going to trial in that scenario.  So, it is important to plead not guilty at the initial appearance.

Indeed, a plea of not guilty will likely result in a plea offer from the State, possibly to a reduced charge.  Also, obtaining the police reports may reveal a defense to the charge.  It at least allows an opportunity to review and test the evidence. Except in limited circumstances, it is not advisable to plead guilty at the initial appearance.

The judge will also address release conditions at a misdemeanor initial appearance. An “own recognizance” release is the general rule, but a judge could impose a bond if inclined.

Call Huss Law

A misdemeanor initial appearance/arraignment is an important hearing.  Pleading Guilty to the Court at this hearing could have life-long consequences.  Always seek advice from a knowledgeable attorney before giving up any rights or attending a court hearing alone.  Call Huss Law for a Free Consultation.

Categories:: Criminal Defense