Bruce F. Peterson, Legal Advocate
The Maricopa County Office of the Legal Advocate represents people charged with criminal acts, those facing mental health commitments and the guardianship of minor children as directed by the Superior Court of Maricopa County. The Office was established by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors as authorized by A.R.S. §11-581. (Public Defender Enabling Act).
Maricopa County Legal Advocate is a publicly funded attorney, such as a Public Defender, who represents people charged with criminal offenses, mental health clients or minor children in need of a Guardian ad Litem. Attorneys represent individuals whom the court has determined cannot afford to hire a private attorney. Like any other attorney, a Legal Advocate has graduated from an American Bar Association accredited law school, has passed the Arizona bar exam, and has a license to practice law. The majority of the attorneys in the office of the Legal Advocate possess extensive experience in criminal and civil representation and are required to complete continuing legal education classes each year. In addition, they attend local and national conferences to keep themselves current in the law and to sharpen their trial skills.
Before the appointment of a Legal Advocate, the court must determine that the charged individual cannot afford to hire an attorney. Once that determination is made, the court may appoint a Legal Advocate to the case.
If a conflict of interest exists that prevents the Office of the Legal Advocate from representing you or if the Office has reached its maximum caseload, the court may appoint the Legal Defender’s Office, the Office of the Public Defender, or an attorney from the Office of Public Defense Services to represent you.
It takes time, sometimes several months, for a case to move through the courts. During that time, you can do many things to assist your attorney in working on your case. These include:
- Be on time for court and other legal appointments. If you are delayed for any reason, call your attorney.
- Provide current contact information. Give your attorney your home and work addresses, your home, work, mobile, and message phone numbers, and let your attorney know immediately if any of these change.
- Maintain regular contact with your attorney.
- Dress appropriately for court.
- Give your attorney a list of possible witnesses.
- Give your attorney copies of all relevant documents.
- Do not discuss your case with anyone other than your attorney or our office staff. Since anything you say may be used against you in trial, you should not discuss the case with family members, friends, other inmates, detention officers, probation officers, in person or on the telephone.
- Remember that all personal telephone calls made from the jail may be recorded.
The client always gets to decide:
- Whether to go to trial or to take a plea agreement
- Whether or not to testify
- Whether or not to appeal after being convicted at trial
The lawyer is responsible for making strategic decisions, such as:
- Which motions to file
- Whether to object in court
- Which witnesses to call
Our office is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., except on holidays. Our phone number is (602) 506-4111.
Please remember – Anything you say to the police, to family members or to others could be used against you in court. Therefore, DO NOT discuss your case with anyone except your attorney or our office staff. Always remember that you and your attorney are partners working for the best possible result for you. If you would like the attorney to discuss your case with family members, you must give the attorney permission to speak with them.
You must appear in court for all your court hearings unless told otherwise by your lawyer. It can take several months for a case to move through the court system. During that time, it is important for you to keep in touch with your lawyer and to make all court appearances until your lawyer tells you that your case is over.
You can help your lawyer by:
- Being on time for court
- Wearing appropriate clothing
- Coming to court prepared with any questions you have for your attorney
The initial appearance is your first step in the criminal justice system. At this appearance you will be:
- Informed of your charges
- Appointed an attorney if you are unable to afford to retain the services of a private attorney
- Advised of your next court date and court location
Many cases in Maricopa County are set for a preliminary hearing. The preliminary hearing is a court hearing before a court commissioner in the Regional Court Center (RCC). You usually will meet the lawyer assigned to your case for the first time during this proceeding. The prosecutor can present witnesses and evidence at the hearing. The commissioner’s job is to decide if there is enough evidence to show two things:
- That the crime charged occurred, and
- That you probably are the person who committed the crime.
If the commissioner finds that there is not sufficient evidence to believe that the crime occurred or to demonstrate that you probably were the person who committed the crime, the case will be dismissed. If the commissioner is convinced that there is sufficient evidence to believe those two points, your case will be set for an Initial Pretrial Conference (IPTC).
Occasionally, preliminary hearings are “scratched” or “vacated.” This may mean that the formal charges were not filed or that the prosecutor has chosen to take the case to the grand jury. The charges may be re-filed. Be sure to provide any address changes to the post office so mail from the court about your charges will reach you. If you do not, you may be arrested when the charges are re-filed.
You may waive the preliminary hearing if you, your attorney, and the prosecutor reach a plea agreement. Typically, prosecutors offer plea agreements that provide a better sentence than you would obtain if you choose to go to trial and lose. If you accept the prosecutor’s offer, you give up your right to a preliminary hearing and a trial and, instead, enter into the plea agreement at the RCC that same day. Your sentencing date will scheduled approximately one month from the date upon which you enter into the plea agreement.
If you received an “indictment” on a felony offense, you will not have a preliminary hearing. Instead, the Grand Jury has already found probable cause to charge you. Your next court date will be for an arraignment.
Arraignments are held in Superior Court. At the arraignment, the Court will enter a “Not Guilty” plea on your behalf and will ensure that you have an attorney representing you on your case. If the Court determines that you cannot afford to hire an attorney, one will be appointed to assist you and you will receive instructions on how to contact your assigned attorney. The Court will also assign your case to a judge and set your upcoming court dates. The next court date is an Initial Pretrial Conference.
Under the law you are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
A plea agreement is an agreement you enter with the State, with the acknowledgement and assistance of your attorney. Typically, plea agreements offered by the prosecutor will give you a better sentence than if you went to trial and lost. The decision to plead guilty is entirely up to you. By pleading guilty you give up several rights, including your right to trial. It is important to review the entire plea agreement with your attorney and that you understand the consequences of the entering into the agreement before you sign it and before you enter it in court. If you have any questions about the plea agreement, be sure to discuss them with your attorney.
Please note: Even though you sign a plea agreement with the prosecutor, the judge is not required to accept the terms of the agreement.
The Court may set a number of pretrial hearings before your case proceeds to trial. The settings may include: Initial Pretrial Conference (IPTC), Comprehensive Pretrial Conference (CPTC), Status Conferences, Settlement Conferences, Trial Management Conferences, and hearings on motions filed by the attorneys.
A trial is a court proceeding where the prosecutor must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that you committed the crime charged. Your attorney will have an opportunity to cross examine the prosecutor’s witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence to tell your story. Felony trials are heard by a jury unless you, your attorney, and the prosecutor agree to have your case presented to a judge.
If you enter into a plea agreement or if you are found guilty after trial, you will be scheduled for sentencing approximately one month later. Before the sentencing date, you will meet with a probation officer who will prepare a report for the judge. The report will include a recommendation for your sentence. You should discuss this process with your attorney before you meet with the probation officer. In addition, provide your attorney with letters of support, personal references and other information that could motivate the judge to look more favorably upon you at your sentencing.
At sentencing, your attorney will have the opportunity to speak on your behalf. You also will have the chance to speak to the judge. If you want anyone else to speak on your behalf at sentencing, let you attorney know in advance of the hearing. Those who cannot attend sentencing can submit a letter on your behalf. The letters may be addressed to the sentencing judge, but should be sent to your attorney so the attorney can review them and submit them to the Court on your behalf.
If you are convicted after a trial and wish to appeal your case, you will have the right to file an appeal. Discuss this with your attorney prior to sentencing. If you wish to appeal, your attorney will arrange to have a notice of appeal filed within 20 days after you are sentenced.