When you have never been charged with a crime going to court for the first time can be scary and overwhelming. I often times forget that most people don’t go to criminal court very often, and many other people have never been to a criminal court at all. When you go to a criminal court in Arizona, or anywhere for that matter there will be a several people that you will encounter. The three groups of people each have a crucial role to serve.
Every court room has a judge. The Judge is in charge of running the courtroom docket for their courtroom. The Judge may or may not instruct people where they should sit while in the court room. Some court rooms have rules that victims and their families have to sit on one side of the courtroom. When you walk into a court room always look for signs that tell you where to sit. Sometimes there will not be any signs. Sometimes the Judge will call you up to talk to them.
This is often scary and intimidating for people but the vast majority of judges that I have dealt with bend over backwards to be friendly, polite and welcoming to people that are in their courtroom. Remember to always be polite and respectful to the Judge. I am always amazed when I see people approach to speak to the Judge and be rude or try talking over the Judge. Remember it was not the Judge who charged you with a crime. The Judge can’t decide which cases are brought forward and which ones are dismissed, this is the role of the prosecutor. The Judge is there to make sure the rules gets followed and everyone is doing what they are supposed to.
Every courthouse is a little different. In some courthouses there is a prosecutor who sits in the courtroom and talks to defendants from there. Some courthouses will have a separate office next to the courtroom where the prosecutor sits, and calls people into to speak to them. Yet other courthouses, the prosecutor stays in their office away from the courtroom and gets called in by the court when a matter is ready. If you are representing yourself you will speak to the prosecutor at some point during your case. The prosecutor will give you your options and help explain the process. It is important to remember that the prosecutor is not on your side and can’t give you legal advice. If you ask the prosecutor what you should do they will tell you that they can’t give you legal advice. If you have retained defense counsel they will speak to the prosecutor on your behalf.
Every criminal courthouse will have defense lawyers. Defense lawyers are the third part of the criminal justice system, along with prosecutors, and judges. Some of the lawyers will be private, while some will be court appointed. The court appointed lawyers may be full time public defenders while some may have part time contracts with that specific court. If you go to court and are looking for a lawyer to hire you can ask a defense lawyer that you see if you can speak to them about retaining them. Every lawyer sets their own prices, and they will be able to tell you what they would charge you to represent you. Some lawyers charge a flat fee, while others charge hourly.