Planet Defendant: Learn the Lingo Part One

Being charged with a crime can feel like being transported to another world called Planet Defendant. Like all worlds, Planet Defendant has its own lingo that one should learn to better understand what’s happening. The following list is specific to Maricopa County Superior Court and defines some common words. Some of the definitions were taken from the Adult Criminal Trial Process page of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office website found at This blog post defines words in the first half of the alphabet; next month’s blog post will define words in the second half of the alphabet.

  • Arraignment: A court hearing that is held within ten days after the filing of an indictment or direct complaint. At the arraignment, the judge informs the defendant about the exact charges against him, that he should hire an attorney or see if he qualifies for a public defender, and asks him if he pleads guilty or not guilty to the charges. The judge then sets a date for a pretrial conference and trial date.
  • Charge: A formal accusation made by the prosecutor that a person has committed a crime that is found in a complaint. A charge is called a “count” if it is found in an indictment.
  • Complaint: A document prepared by the prosecutor which describes the felony offense(s) the defendant is alleged to have committed.
  • Court: A general term that refers to any judge or commissioner.
  • EDC: “EDC” stands for “Early Disposition Court”. EDC handles most first and second offense drug offenses. Eligible cases are identified at the Initial Appearance. The plea and sentencing are combined.
  • Indictment: A document prepared by the prosecutor based on the findings of a Grand Jury. It has formal accusation(s) called count(s) stating that a person has committed crime(s). Upon receiving an indictment, a judge may either issue a summons ordering the defendant to appear in court or prepare an arrest warrant.
  • Initial Appearance: This is the first court hearing that is held after a person is arrested at the scene or based on an arrest warrant. At the initial appearance, the judge informs the defendant about the felony allegations, his right to an attorney if he can afford one or a public defender if he cannot, and conditions of the defendant’s pretrial release. He then sets a date for a status conference and preliminary hearing.
  • Jail: The jails hold defendants who have not been sentenced and can’t make bail or are ineligible for bail as well as defendants sentenced to less than one year incarceration.
  • Law: A general term that refers to Arizona laws (the Arizona Revised Statutes) and decisions/opinions from the Arizona Supreme Court and Arizona Court of Appeals.

Planet Defendant lingo can be confusing. Attorney Gary Rohlwing knows the lingo because he has over three decades of experience defending clients in Maricopa County Superior Court. Please call him today for a free consultation.

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