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Early Disposition Court In Arizona

Commonly abbreviated as EDC, Early Disposition Court handles non-violent offenses that involve simple drug possession. The cases that the EDC handles tend to resolve quickly, usually between thirty and forty-five days. The Early Disposition Court combines several court proceedings into one hearing, and the offender pleads guilty. The Early Disposition Court serves as one of the alternatives to the criminal justice system in Arizona, handling people facing low-level drug crime charges. Formerly, the court was known as the Expedited Drug Court. EDC aims to enhance the movement of minor drug crimes from the regular court systems to speed up the case resolution process. If you face minor drug crime charges and need an attorney to guide you regarding the EDC, the Phoenix Criminal Attorney can help.

The Early Disposition Court Combines Several Hearings

During a defendant's initial appearance, the eligible cases for Early Disposition Court are flagged. The defendant could consider a plea agreement to have the EDC handle their case. In this case, the EDC hearing will be within ten days.

The EDC hearing combines several pretrial procedures:

Preliminary Hearing

A preliminary hearing is a court proceeding whereby the prosecutor shows that he/she has probable cause to believe that the defendant is guilty of a crime. A case does not proceed to the next stage if the prosecutor fails to prove probable cause. A preliminary hearing is among the first court appearances that the defendant makes after an arrest. It could occur in a regional court center or the justice court. The prosecutor presents all sorts of evidence during this hearing to prove the defendant is guilty. This evidence includes police reports. However, it could also have evidence acquired illegally.

The defendant’s attorney will have an opportunity to cross-examine any witness that the prosecutor presents. When the prosecutor presents their findings, the magistrate determines whether there is enough evidence for the case to proceed to the next step. If the magistrate establishes that there is probable cause to show that the defendant committed a crime, he/she signs an order to send the case to the superior court. The magistrate dismisses the case if there is no probable cause to support the criminal allegations.

Arraignment Hearing

An arraignment refers to the initial court appearance. During an arraignment, the defendant learns about the charges against them. Also, during this hearing, the defendant states if he/she is guilty, not guilty, or no contest. The arraignment hearing is formal and crucial for criminal proceedings despite being relatively quick. Other actions that the court often takes during the arraignment hearing include setting the dates for trial and pretrial hearings.

The court informs the defendant about the court dates and deadlines. Even if the defendant has a right to be present during the court hearings, the court proceedings would still go on even if the defendant were absent. However, the defendant must be present during the sentencing hearing. During the arraignment, the court could appoint an attorney for the defendant if necessary. The court also outlines the defendant's rights during the arraignment. These rights include the right to an attorney, including a public defender or court-appointed attorney, the right to a jury trial, the right to attend all court hearings, and the right to appeal the results of the case.

Plea Hearing

During a plea hearing, both the prosecution and the defense can present any evidence or information that they would want the judge to consider while making a sentence. First, the defendant responds to the criminal charges against them. The defendant's response must be one of the following: guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere. During a plea hearing, the victim has the chance to tell the court about the impact of the crime on them. This statement is known as the Victim Impact Statement. Finally, the defense attorney could call several people to give psychological evidence or character evidence about the defendant. When a plea hearing takes place will depend on whether a state or federal court is handling a case.

Sentencing Hearing

Under the Arizona criminal justice system, the sentencing hearing is a stage whereby the judge imposes a sentence on the defendant. The sentencing hearing comes after the pre-sentencing hearing after the judge considers the mitigating or aggravating factors against the defendant. The possible sentences include jail time or imprisonment. The judge will also consider imposing other penalties like probation, fines, community service, mandatory rehabilitation, and restitution. The sentencing hearing occurs only if a defendant pleads guilty or the court declares them guilty after trial. Therefore, when the sentencing hearing takes place will depend on when the court finds the defendant guilty. The court proceeds directly to the sentencing hearing if a defendant pleads guilty during the arraignment hearing.

All the hearings outlined above will be a single hearing if the EDC handles your case.

The EDC Eliminates The Grand Jury Indictment

The Early Disposition Court also eliminates the need for a grand jury indictment, a common way of initiating a criminal case against an offender. During an indictment, the prosecution presents evidence of the criminal activity to the jury. The jury issues an indictment to allow the prosecutor to file criminal charges if there is probable cause that the defendant committed a crime. The grand jury's role is to review the potential criminal charges that the prosecutor brings before them. The jury screens out any case that is unsupported by probable cause. Usually, a grand jury consists of around nine to sixteen people.

Presided By The Superior Court Commissioner

A judge does not preside over the combined EDC hearing. Instead, a Superior court commissioner handles the case. However, even at the Early Disposition Court, the defendant still has the right to a criminal defense attorney. If the defendant cannot afford to hire an attorney, the court hires a public defender for them.

During the EDC hearing, a defendant only gets a glimpse of the evidence against them. Usually, the defendant will have a glimpse of the police report. The court then allows the defendant to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges against them. If the defendant does not plead guilty to the charges, the case goes back to the Early Disposition Court, where it is referred back to:

  • The justice court or the municipal court if the charge was a misdemeanor
  • The superior court, if the charge was a felony

The case goes directly to the sentencing if the defendant accepts a plea offer. The sentence imposed by the EDC does not include incarceration or imprisonment at the Department of Corrections. Usually, the court suspends the sentence and puts the defendant on probation with the Probation Department and Pretrial Services. Even if the defendant violates the probation terms, the court cannot revoke the probation to send the defendant to prison. The release terms of probation revolve around drug treatment programs.

In an Early Disposition Court, the resolution of a criminal case takes a little over one month from the time of a defendant’s arrest to the sentencing. This period is far much shorter than the time it takes for a criminal case to go all the way to the trial date. After sentencing, the court requires the defendant to complete a drug treatment program. If the defendant completes the program successfully, the court dismisses the case.

The Formation Of The Early Disposition Court

The Early Disposition Court was established in 1997 after Proposition 200. The criminal law that came to effect in 2016 requires persons convicted of drug possession for personal use after the law's passage to qualify for probation. By 2008, the Early Disposition Court resolved most of all the felonies filed by law enforcement officers in Arizona.

Cases Eligible For Early Disposition Court

Most non-violent drug crimes are eligible to be handled by the Early Disposition Court. The case must involve either the possession of drug paraphernalia or the possession of drugs for personal use. The amount of drug a defendant possesses should be below the threshold that distinguishes possession for personal use from possession with intent to sell. The EDC can handle a case irrespective of the drug involved. The court resolves drug crimes revolving around:

  • Heroin
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Methamphetamine
  • Other dangerous drugs

The EDC could also handle other cases in addition to drug possession offenses. For instance, the court also handles crimes involving welfare fraud, often filed by the office of the Arizona Attorney General. Some defendants are not eligible for the EDC because of their past criminal records. The Early Disposition Court can only resolve cases involving first-time or second-time offenders.

How The EDC Fits Into Arizona’s Superior Court System

The Early Disposition Court resembles the Arizona drug court. Its role is to remove minor crimes from the conventional criminal justice system. When some of the cases move to the EDC, it reduces the number of necessary court dates. Moving the cases also frees up the court resources, enabling the court to handle other, more complicated cases. The EDC allows defendants to resolve their cases much faster than they would if the case proceeded to trial. Having the EDC handle minor drug crimes directs defendants to drug treatment programs, rehab, and mental health services, instead of incarceration.

However, the downside of the Early Disposition Court is that the defendant does not see much of the evidence the prosecutor gathers against them. This means that the defendant will not have the opportunity to challenge the evidence against them accordingly. This could limit the criminal defense attorney's ability to determine if the prosecutor's case is strong or if it has lapses that could be used to fight the defendant's criminal charges. Lack of evidence disclosure could be detrimental, especially in felony cases.

EDC Resolutions Explained

Most charges assigned to the EDC are usually for drug possession. There are many resolutions available under the Early Disposition Court. The resolutions depend on several factors like the defendant's criminal history and the nature of the offense. Below are the typical resolutions under the EDC:

Diversion Programs

Drug diversion programs are counseling programs available to eligible defendants. They serve as alternatives to the consequences of criminal convictions like jail, fines, probation, and fees. If the defendant completes the diversion program successfully, they will have their charges dismissed. The role of a drug diversion program is to educate, rehabilitate, and prevent the defendant from committing an additional crime. A drug diversion program allows the defendant to avoid a criminal conviction.

Whether a defendant qualifies for a diversion program depends on the type of the offense, the facts of the case, and the defendant’s criminal history. In addition, the defendant has the opportunity to enter a plea agreement. Upon completing all the terms of the program and the plea agreement, the charges against the defendant are dismissed.

Drug Treatment/Rehabilitation

Relying on jail or prison to handle people with drug issues is not always the ideal approach. Drug addiction is a major issue, and it is not easy for someone to quit. Drug rehabilitation is a much better alternative to jail time for people struggling with an addiction. People who struggle with drug and substance addiction are much more likely to end up with a drug charge. Locking up people with substance abuse issues is not a practical approach. Many people do not have adequate drug rehabilitation while in prison-like they would have in a qualified drug rehabilitation facility. When the EDC offers offenders the option of attending drug rehab, it provides an alternative path to recovery for people who would end up trapped by drugs.

There are many ways of finding drugs even while behind bars. Therefore, people with drug addiction problems could still access a substance of their choice, even while in jail. Incarcerating someone trying to quit using drugs leaves them with a criminal record making their post-release life more challenging. Overcoming an addiction is hard enough. Adding a criminal conviction only makes the situation worse. It adds more barriers to finding housing and employment, making it harder for an addict to quit drugs. After release from jail, the defendant could go back to drugs due to the stigma that surrounds ex-convicts.

Drug rehab programs have the sole purpose of helping people separate from drugs. These treatment facilities are equipped with adequate resources to aid those seeking to leave drugs behind and adopt a new way of life. While in rehab, an addict is surrounded by a support system that will keep him or her on track even after recovery. The legal system in Arizona continually recognizes the importance of a drug rehabilitation program for addicts.

Mental Health Diversion

The criminal justice system in Arizona has undergone several reforms in recent years. There has been a heightened emphasis on providing care and treatment to people with mental illness instead of incarcerating them in jail or prison. The EDC often refers offenders to mental health services upon committing certain crimes like possession of drugs for personal use. If the defendant completes the program, the court dismisses the charges against them.

The defendant must have a mental disorder for the court to recommend this program. Some of the most common conditions are:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizoaffective Disorder

Some mental conditions do not qualify for the mental program diversion:

  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Pedophilia

For most people who suffer from a mental health disorder, the disorders usually contribute/play a significant role in the crime with which they are charged. Often, a mental health professional evaluates the defendant to determine if the defendant will benefit from the treatment program.

Hiring A Criminal Defense Attorney

Drug possession cases make up the bulk of the EDC cases. Therefore, when hiring an attorney, it is essential to ensure that he/she has a deep understanding of Proposition 200 and other drug statutes. The voter-enacted referendum, proposition 200, became Arizona law in 2004. As outlined by Proposition 200, first or second-time drug offenders should be granted probation instead of jail time. Go for an attorney who has handled numerous cases in the early resolution courts.

In addition to the attorney's experience, other important factors that you should consider are the attorney's reputation and responsiveness. Naturally, you want an attorney with a proven record of accomplishment. In addition, a responsive attorney will be there whenever you need to consult.

Find A Phoenix Criminal Attorney Near Me

EDC provides a quick resolution for criminal offenses. However, the courts do not provide ample time for a thorough examination of the evidence against the defendant. The defendant will also have access to limited evidence, usually the police reports. If you plead guilty, there will be no thorough examination of the evidence because the case will proceed directly to sentencing. Therefore, you should not take a plea unless you are sure that is what you want. It is advisable to slow down the EDC process and consult an attorney. Contact the Phoenix Criminal Attorney to discuss all the crucial issues of your case before the EDC process. Call us at 602-551-8092 and speak to one of our attorneys.

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