If you’ve been charged with a non-violent felony in Maricopa County, including some traffic violations like unlawful flight or endangerment, it is very possible your case will go to either of the Regional Court Center (RCC) or Early Disposition Court (EDC). They work in essentially the same way.
The purpose of these courts is to attempt to resolve cases more quickly and efficiently and often with a focus on getting some kind of help for defendants to ensure their continuing law-abiding behavior after the case is over. The entire process is streamlined, which comes with certain advantages and disadvantages.
On the plus side, the case moves more quickly and often with more desirable outcomes. The hope is to have cases settled within 45–90 days. On the other hand, discovery is very minimal and there’s a lot less opportunity to learn about all the ins and outs of the State’s case against you.
EDC or RCC hearings are governed by commissioners, not judges. However, you should generally treat the commissioners in the same manner and with the same respect you would a judge.
Once you’ve been released and are sent to EDC or RCC, you a few different possible hearings scheduled.
In Early Disposition Court, the first hearing you’re scheduled for is called a Status Conference. At the Status Conference, you have an opportunity to speak with a prosecutor. The prosecutor will give you a copy of the police report related to the case and make a plea offer. The plea offer is an agreement you can enter to resolve the case. You usually get some terms in Early Disposition Court that are better than what you would be facing if you went to a trial and lost.
Often attorneys request a continuance of the first Status Conference, to give them an opportunity to review the police report and consider the plea offer with the defendant. This would also allow time to submit a deviation request, if appropriate. A deviation request is a formal request to a prosecutor to offer a different plea deal than the one provided. If a continuance is granted, the court will set another Status Conference for a later date (usually about 30 days later). If the Status Conference date is continued, the Preliminary Hearing date will also be continued. You typically won’t get more than one or two continuances of a Status Conference.
If the defendant agrees to the plea offer, then he or she will go through a change of plea at the Status Conference. The change of plea is a formal proceeding wherein the defendant waives various constitutional rights and is made very clear about the implications of the plea. Once a change of plea takes place, the defendant is required to waive the Preliminary Hearing and the court will set another hearing date (the Sentencing Hearing) about 30 days or so later.
If there was a change of plea, then immediately or very shortly after the Status Conference the defendant must report to the Probation Department to conduct an interview. The probation department will use hat information to prepare a report regarding recommended sentencing.
A Preliminary Hearing is usually scheduled a few days after any given Status Conference. If the Status Conference is not continued along with the Preliminary Hearing and the defendant has not entered a change of plea, then it will proceed to the Preliminary Hearing.
Generally, a felony requires the State (the prosecution) to establish there was probable cause to bring the charge(es) against the defendant. In a Preliminary Hearing the State offers evidence to prove that such probable cause existed in your case. If they succeed, the case will continue. If they fail, the case must be dismissed.
Note, however, that probable cause is a very low standard. It’s much lower than the standard that would apply if the case were to be heard in a trial. Thus, if there is any remotely credible evidence supporting the allegations, the State will probably win.
Plea agreements typically have some amount of ambiguity built into them. For example, it might require the defendant be on probation, but not say for how long. For any such ambiguity, the Court will have to fill in the blanks.
Because of that, the Probation Department will conduct an investigation prior to the Sentencing Hearing and put together a report. The report will advise a recommended sentence. The Defendant has an opportunity to file a Presentence Memorandum as well, however, is not required to. The Presentence Memorandum would explain what the defendant thinks should happen regarding sentencing.
At the Sentencing Hearing, the commissioner will hear from the prosecutor and the defendant as to any additional information or argument relevant to sentencing. Then the commissioner will issue a ruling and final order.
After the Sentencing Hearing
Sometimes sentences can involve jail time. In such events it’s possible the defendant will be taken into custody then. It’s also possible to have deferred jail time ordered. In such cases, the defendant might be advised they don’t need to serve jail time if they’ve been compliant with probation.
If the defendant is not taken directly into custody, they will generally have to report immediately to the probation department (as probation is usually going to be required for at least some amount of time). Thereafter, they will have to follow the requirements of Adult Probation.
If There Is No Resolution in Early Disposition Court
If the case ultimately cannot be resolved in Early Disposition Court or the Regional Court Center, then the case must proceed to the “Trial Track.” This means that it’s processed through the normal criminal system. This can be a much slower process and result in far worse penalties for any offenses.