How Felonies are Charged in Arizona

How is a felony charged? Will I be arrested? What can I expect? These are questions I often get from people who have been arrested for a felony and are still awaiting charges. They have no idea what to expect, and many unanswered questions about the process of how felony charges are filed. It is understandably very unsettling to have felony charges looming in the near future especially when you have no idea what to expect. People worry that one day soon the police are going to show up at their place of work and haul them off to jail. Here is a brief explanation of how felonies are charge in Arizona.

After the investigating law enforcement agency believes they have accumulated enough evidence to support felony charges, that agency will submit their investigation and recommended charges to the appropriate prosecutorial agency. A prosecutor reviews the submittal and then makes a decision as to what charges to file and what process to bring those charges. A felony case is charged by either the grand jury or a criminal complaint.

Grand Jury

If a case goes forward by way of the grand jury, the prosecutor presents a summary of the evidence to a grand jury. The grand jury then decides whether or not there is enough evidence to go forward. If the grand jury feels there is enough evidence that probable cause exists, then the grand jury issues what is called a “true bill” and an indictment is issued. The grand jury indictment is then filed with the court.


If a case goes forward by way of complaint, a prosecutor reviews the recommended charges and a complaint is filed under oath by a peace officer alleging that an offense occurred and the person charged committed the offense. The defendant is then typically served with a criminal summons to appear in court on the charges. A prosecutor can elect to proceed by requesting a warrant, but a summons is the preferred method. If a defendant fails to appear and honor the summons, the trial court will issue a warrant for the defendant’s arrest. A defendant who is charged by complaint is entitled to a preliminary hearing for a determination of probable cause by a magistrate before the prosecution can proceed with the charges.

In contrast, a defendant charged by indictment is not entitled to a preliminary hearing because the grand jury has already made the finding of probable cause.” For more on the consequences of a felony conviction (see Consequences of a Felony Conviction in this blog)