Your Guide to Understanding the Process and Presenting Your Case
This information was compiled by Tucson City Court to make it easier for you to represent yourself by providing some practical information on preparing and presenting your case for trial.
Self-representation starts with understanding the rules and procedures of the courtroom. Even though you are not a lawyer, you are expected to follow the rules and procedures that are in place in Tucson City Court. If you do not follow the rules of the courtroom, you will be at a significant disadvantage when presenting your case in the courtroom.
Reading this section of the website will help you begin to understand what the rules and procedures are in Tucson City Court and what to expect during your trial. In addition, the hyperlinks located in this section will show you tips to prepare for your trial and how to present your case during trial. Although there are no guarantees of success at trial, careful preparation increases the chance that you will make your best case.
You should start preparing for your trial as soon as possible. Use this section to help prepare you for your trial. Pay close attention to the “Do’s” and “Do Not’s” that appear in hyperlinks throughout the throughout the following sections:
As a defendant in a criminal trial in Tucson City Court, you have certain rights that are guaranteed:
- You have the right to hire an attorney at your own expense and have that attorney represent you at trial. You should know that the court will appoint an attorney to you only if the prosecutor is seeking jail time as part of your sentence, and the judge finds that you cannot afford an attorney.
- You have the right to a jury trial for certain crimes.
- You have the right to look at and make copies of all the evidence that the State will use against you at trial.
- You have a right to testify at court or to remain silent.
- You have a right to appeal the decision of the court after your trial has ended.
The Pre-Trial Conference takes place 30-45 days after your Arraignment. It is not the actual trial, but you will be in a courtroom in front of a judge. It is an important part of the trial proceedings because at the Pre-Trial Conference the judge will give you your trial date. Also, you will talk with the prosecutor about the case the State has against you.
At the Pre-Trial Conference, the prosecutor will most likely give you another opportunity to accept a plea offer. The offer may be the same as the one you were offered at your Arraignment, or it may be a new offer entirely. The new offer may be better than the original offer, or it may be worse.
If you want to accept the prosecutor’s plea offer at the Pre-Trial Conference, you may change your plea from "not guilty" to "guilty." By changing your plea to "guilty," you give up the right to a trial and the right to an appeal. The judge will tell you how to complete your sentence and excuse you. Your day in court will end at that time.
On the other hand, if you do not want to accept the prosecutor’s plea offer but still want to go to trial to fight the charges brought against you, the judge will set a date for your trial.
If you decide to go on with the trial, you will have to fill out a form, along with the prosecutor, called the "Pretrial Statement."
On the Pretrial Statement, you will be required to list the full names, addresses, and telephone numbers of all the witnesses you intend to have testify at your trial. If you do not include the name of a witness on the Pretrial Statement, that witness will not be allowed to testify at your trial. Also, if you intend to introduce any physical evidence at trial, such as photographs or documents, you must list each piece on the Pretrial Statement form.
The prosecutor is required to give the same information about the State’s case. Be sure to get a copy of all the State’s evidence listed by the prosecutor on the Pretrial Statement. You have a right to see all of the State’s evidence and a right to interview the witnesses prior to the trial.
After the Pre-Trial Conference, you should go to the Prosecutor’s Office on the 5th floor of the Tucson City Court building and request copies of all the documents, such as the police report, that the prosecutor plans to use at the trial. There is a charge for each page copied.
- DO get copies of the State's evidence against you.
- DO bring the names and addresses of all of the witnesses you want to bring to your trial.
- DON'T bring your witness to the pretrial conference.
The trial is the time set aside by the court for you, as the defendant, to fight the charges the State has brought against you. The State, represented by the prosecutor, has the responsibility to prove the charges against you beyond a reasonable doubt.
Since you are representing yourself, the judge will most likely begin the trial with a brief explanation of what will take place during the trial. Some judges may ask you if you have any questions. Do not be afraid to ask a question if you have one.
Since the State has the burden of proving the charges against you, the State presents its case first. The prosecutor will make an opening statement. After the prosecutor makes an opening statement, you are allowed to make your opening statement.
The opening statements are followed by the State’s case-in-chief. This is the time when the prosecutor presents the witnesses for the State and asks the witnesses questions in a direct examination. You have the right to question the State’s witnesses after the prosecutor finishes the direct examination. Your questioning of the State’s witnesses is called a cross-examination. When the prosecutor has presented all of the State’s witnesses and evidence for the State, the prosecutor will say, "The State rests."
After the State rests its case, it is your turn, as the defendant, to present your case-in-chief. At this point you present your witnesses and question them in a direct examination. When you finish your direct examination, the prosecutor may cross-examine your witnesses. Upon presenting all of your witnesses and physical evidence, you have finished your case-in-chief.
At this point, the prosecutor will make a closing argument. You make your closing argument last.
Most likely, your trial will be a bench trial, so the judge alone will decide the case. The judge may make a decision on your case immediately after you finish your closing argument or the judge may take some time to decide.
In both the jury trial and bench trial, the judge will decide upon your sentence and inform you of your right to appeal the decision.
You should begin preparing for your trial as soon as possible. Use this checklist to help you.
The first step is to understand the charges the State has brought against you. Find a copy of the statute or ordinance (the "law") that you have been charged with violating.
Note: A "statute" is the legal term for laws passed by a legislative body, such as the Arizona State Legislature or the United States Congress. An "ordinance" is a rule made by a city, such as the Tucson City Council.
You can find the statute or city ordinance that applies in your case at one of the following locations:
Joel D. Valdez Main Library
101 N. Stone Ave.
Tucson, AZ 85701
Phone (520) 594-5500
Note: Most of the other public library branches in Tucson have copies of the City Code and the Arizona Revised Statutes. Call ahead to be sure.
University of Arizona College of Law Library
1201 E. Speedway
Tucson, AZ 85719
Phone (520) 621-1413
Pima County Superior Court Library
110 W. Congress, Room 256
Tucson, AZ 86701
Phone (520) 740-8456
Read the law carefully and determine what had to have happened for you to be found guilty of the charges.
Visit the Prosecutor’s Office on the 5th floor of Tucson City Court and get copies of all the evidence the State intends to use against you, especially the police report. Bring some money because they will charge per page copied.
Read through the evidence against you carefully to find out what the State’s case is against you.
Compare the law with the evidence the State has.
Write down your version of the facts and compare it with the State’s version.
Choose your witnesses and give their names and addresses to the prosecutor at the Pre-Trial Conference. Choose witnesses whose testimony helps the judge determine what happened. The best witnesses are those who were at the scene and saw or heard something important.
Subpoena your witnesses. If your witness does not agree to appear at your trial voluntarily, or if their employer requires proof of the trial, you should subpoena your witnesses. Subpoenas are available at no cost to you at City Court, first floor, near the main entrance of the City Court Building. You should request your subpoena at least twenty days before your trial date to make sure that the witnesses can be served.
Even if your witnesses volunteer to show up at trial, you may want to subpoena them anyway. If you do not subpoena the witnesses, and they do not show up, the judge will most likely have the trial go on without them, to your disadvantage. If you subpoena the witnesses and they do not show up to court, the judge will probably give you a new trial date.
Prepare for direct examinations by writing questions to ask each of your witnesses.
Prepare to cross-examine the State’s witnesses by preparing possible questions to ask them.
Prepare your closing argument and your opening statement.
Additional Information Can be Found at:
Opening statements mark the beginning of the trial.
It is your first chance to speak about your case in court.
You should briefly tell the judge what you think the case is about. Be sure to tell the judge what facts you are going to present during the trial. This is not a time for opinions or arguments-just stick to the facts.
At the end of your opening statement, be sure to tell the judge that the evidence presented during the trial will support your side. Tell the judge exactly what verdict you want.
Keep your opening statement short and simple. For example, in a simple assault case your opening statement may be something like this:
Your Honor, the facts of the case will show that I did hit John Doe in the nose, but I did so in self-defense. John Doe and I have long been neighbors. He has been a good neighbor in the past, but recently he has been having fits of rage in which he throws patio furniture and rants and raves on his front lawn. Another neighbor will testify that he called the police the day before the fight between us in order to calm John Doe down after one of his rages. The head of the home owners association will testify that on the day of the incident, John Doe was having a fit and that he threw a lawn chair at my head and took a swing at me. I hit him in the nose to protect myself.
Do not worry about memorizing a speech. You may write your opening statement down and read it at the trial. By reading your opening statement off a sheet of paper, you won’t forget to mention everything you want to mention.
- Do Make an Opening Statement
- Do Keep it Shot and Logical
- Don't Give Opinions or Arguments
The facts introduced during the trial are based primarily upon the testimony of the witnesses given during direct examinations. What the witnesses say while on the witness stand and under oath, therefore, is one of the most important parts of the trial.
As with all parts of the trial, the key to a successful direct examination is preparation. You need to choose your witnesses wisely and to prepare your questions before the trial.
As mentioned before, your witnesses should be people who were at the scene and who heard or saw something that establishes the facts. In most trials at Tucson City Court, one or two eye-witnesses will help the judge figure out what happened much more effectively than three or more witness who say the same thing or who can only speak about what kind of person you are.
When preparing questions for your witnesses, start with the beginning and take the judge through the story in small steps. The questions should be direct, clear, and asked to bring out a specific point or fact. Ask your witnesses questions that bring out the facts that support your defense and challenge the State’s case. Ask one question at a time and give your witness time to answer.
Be sure not to forget yourself when choosing witnesses and preparing questions. At your trial at City Court, your best witness, sometimes your only witness, may be yourself. It is your decision to testify or not. You do not have to testify if you do not want to do so. The prosecutor cannot make you testify, nor can the judge.
If you choose NOT to testify on your own behalf, the judge cannot use that as proof of your guilt.
If you want to testify on your own behalf, you will be sworn in under oath like any other witness. Since it is unreasonable for you to ask yourself questions, the judge will allow you to just tell your story in a narrative form. That means you can just talk. If you plan to testify, prepare what you want to say. As with other witnesses, keep your testimony short and to the point.
Remember when you testify, you give the prosecutor the chance to cross-examine you. Be prepared for the cross–examination. Use the advice that you should give to your own witnesses: be polite and calm, and answer the questions directly and truthfully.
- Do Prepare Your Questions Before the Trial
- Do Choose Your Witnesses Wisely
- Don’t Bring Character Witnesses
You have the right to question all of the State’s witnesses, and the State has the right to question all of your witnesses, including you, if you choose to testify.
Prepare your questions prior to the trial. Use a series of short, related questions to get to the point.
When questioning the State’s witnesses you should be confident and in control. However, you should not belittle, harass, or argue with them. They merely happened to see, hear, or experience something in a way that is favorable to the State’s case.
Your goal in questioning the State’s witnesses is not to confuse them or to make them look foolish. Your goal is to point out inconsistencies or problems with their testimony. This may include questioning how truthful they are, but this technique is best used only by experienced lawyers who are skilled at cross-examinations.
- Do Ask Short, Clear Questions
- Do Give Witnesses Time to Answer
- Don’t Argue With the Witness
This is the last chance for you to speak to the court. You should give your opinion by making an argument based upon the evidence presented.
Tell the judge what the case is about and why the case should be decided in your favor. Focus on the strengths of your case and the weaknesses of the State's case. Do not bring up facts that were not discussed during the trial.
Remember that longer is not necessarily better. For most trials at Tucson City Court, only a few minutes to review the facts and present your argument clearly is necessary. Even if your closing argument is short, you may want to write it down and read it to the court so that you do not leave out any important points.
- Do Make a Closing Argument
- Don’t Bring Up New Facts
Guidelines are listed below:
An appeal is a review by a higher court (Pima County Superior Court) for cases originally heard in a lower court (City Court, Justice Court, etc.). This review is to determine whether something improper occurred during the trial or hearing. No new evidence may be introduced. After higher court review, the case is remanded (returned) to the sentencing court either affirming (confirming) or dismissing the original decision.
Basis for filing an appeal
Your appeal will have to be based upon legal grounds, not just because you did not agree with the results of the case. Copies of the Arizona Revised Statutes and Tucson City Code are available at the Pima County Public Library and the University of Arizona Law Library for you to research.
Appeal filing deadline
Your Notice of Appeal must be filed within 14 calendar days of your sentencing date. If the 14th day falls on a day that the court is closed, you will have until the next business day to file your appeal. An appellant memorandum (explanation based on legal grounds) must be filed within 60 days from the last day that the Notice of Appeal could be filed.
Trials and civil hearings at City Court are digitally recorded. There is a fee of $17.00 for reproducing the digital recording that is sent to Superior Court. Additional copies are available for $17.00 per CD. You may request a waiver of these fees from the judge that sentenced you.
Notification of filing
Once all the legal steps have been completed, your case will be sent to Superior Court. Superior Court will notify you that they have received your appeal. If any Superior Court appeal fees are due, the payment must be paid to that Court by the date noted on your paperwork. Contact Superior Court for information on that Court’s appeal filing fees.
Completion of appeal process
You will be notified of the decision and the court documents will be returned to the originating court. If a court date is scheduled you will be notified, by mail, of the scheduled date, time, and location.
At this point, you should understand how a trial works. However, even with the best preparation, you can expect to make some mistakes, even the most experienced trial lawyers do. Keep in mind that most of the mistakes that you make will be minor and not fatal to your case. Yet, you want to avoid certain things that will make your case harder to present.
Most judges are willing to help you at times during the trial because they understand that representing yourself without the aid of a lawyer is difficult. However, they will not be as understanding or helpful if you display an ugly or negative attitude.
In addition, you should to avoid doing the following things:
- Being late
- Being unprepared
- Arguing or badgering the witnesses
- Making sounds of disapproval or disbelief
- Objecting on the ground that a witness is lying
- Appeal: Review of your trial by a higher court to see if any mistakes were made that had an effect on the verdict.
- Arraignment: You first visit to the court in your case. The purpose of the arraignment is for you to tell the court whether you want to fight the charges against you at trial, or you don’t want to fight the charges against you. You appear before a judge and enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest.
- Bailiff: The Judge’s assistant in the courtroom who takes care of the paperwork and security.
- Bench trial: Trial without a jury. The judge hears the case and passes judgment.
- Closing Argument: The last opportunity you have to address the court in your case. You need to argue the strengths of your case and the weaknesses of the prosecutor’s case.
- Cross-Examination: The opportunity for you and the prosecutor to ask questions of each other’s witnesses.
- Defendant: The person charged with the crime(s). In this case, it is you.
- Direct Examination: The opportunity to ask questions of your witness. You may not ask leading questions.
- Hearsay: That you or someone else said not made during the trial. Hearsay statements are not allowed to be used in court, however there are some exceptions.
- Jury selection: The first part of the jury trial in which the prosecutor and defendant choose six people from a large group to serve as jurors for the trial.
- Jury trial: A trial in which a group of six jurors decide whether the defendant is guilty or innocent. The judge decides the sentence.
- Leading Questions: Questions that either have the answer in the question or suggest the answer in the question. Asking leading questions during direct examination is not allowed.
- Objection: A way to keep the other side from asking improper questions and giving improper answers.
- Opening Statement: Your first opportunity to speak to the court. You should tell the jury or the Judge what you think the case is about.
- Pretrial Hearing: The step between the Arraignment and the Trial. You may change your plea to "guilty" or have your case set for Trial.
- Prosecutor: The lawyer who works for the Prosecutor’s Office as the representative for the State. Her job in criminal cases is to use evidence and witness testimony to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, that you, the defendant, committed the crime(s) you are charged with committing.
- Rebuttal Evidence: Evidence that the prosecutor may introduce after you have finished presenting your case.
- Redirect Examination ("redirect"): Further questioning that takes place after the cross-examination of a witness. You may only ask questions about subjects brought up during cross-examination.
- Sentence: Your punishment if you are found to be guilty of the charges. In City Court, sentences usually include a fine. Other punishments are jail time, probation, community service and counseling.
- Subpoena: Court document that orders a witness show up to court on the date of your trial. If a witness is subpoenaed but does not show up, the witness is subject to criminal charges.
- Testimony: What the witnesses say when answer questions under oath.
- Verdict: The guilty or not guilty judgment passed by the judge (or the jury in jury trial) after all of the evidence in the case has been presented.
When will my trial be?
The judge will set your trial date on the day of your Pre-Trial Conference. Usually, the trial takes place three to six weeks from the Pre-Trial Conference depending upon the court’s schedule.
Do I get a jury trial?
You have a right to have your trial in front of a jury only if you are charged with any one of the following offenses:
If you have been charged with one of these offenses and you want a jury trial, you must tell the judge. Otherwise, your trial will be set as a bench trial.
Should I testify on my own behalf?
If you think that it will help your case, you should testify. However, you will be under oath and will be subjected to cross-examination by the prosecutor.
Will the court provide a lawyer for my defense?
The Court will appoint a lawyer to represent you only if both of these two requirements are met:
- The State is asking for jail time as part of your sentence AND
- The Court has determined that you cannot afford to hire an attorney.
Should I get a lawyer if one is not appointed to me?
As a defendant, you have the right to represent yourself in court. However, depending upon your experience, you may be at a serious disadvantage when preparing for and presenting your case. Lawyers understand the law and the legal system, so their services may prove invaluable to you. Even the smallest bit of advice from a lawyer can be extremely helpful.
If you cannot afford lawyer, and the State is not asking for jail time, you may want to contact one of the following agencies to assist you with your legal problems:
Lawyer Referral Service of the Pima County Bar Association.
177 N. Church
Tucson, AZ 85701
Southern Arizona People’s Law Center
611 N. 4th Ave.
Tucson, AZ 85705
Otherwise, you may want to look in the Yellow Pages under "Attorneys" for a complete listing of lawyers in the Tucson area.