So your case is in E.D.C.? What is that?
Updated: Apr 5
You've recently been charged with a low-level crime. Now you're scheduled for your first court appearance in downtown Phoenix. Your case is likely now in Early Disposition Court. What used to be referred to as Expedited Drug Court and the Regional Court Centers were combined into one "fast track" case system in Arizona known as Early Disposition Court, or E.D.C. The premise is simple:
Low level offender cases are streamlined, being swiftly dealt with after the Initial Appearance and before the Preliminary Hearing of a case. The goal was also simple...to offer diversion programs to many low-level offenders who can complete their counseling and have their cases dismissed.
There are currently thousands of cases hanging around E.D.C. If you've found yourself among the hoards of people sitting in the airport-style seating areas outside the courtrooms in the South Court Tower, here's what you should expect:
Your first hearing is a Status Conference.
At this point, if you've been assigned a Public Defender, you're going to meet with them for the first time. They will present you with a copy of a police report pertaining to your case, as well as a plea offer is one has been made for you. You will have a chat about the specifics of your situation, and you will be given a written advisement of the possible outcomes of your case if you decide to go to trial AND YOU WERE TO LOSE. Then you will be presented with the plea offer if there is one, or your case will be continued out if there isn't. There usually will be one at some point in your case. Now your choice begins to boil down to simple math. If you have priors... any potential sentence will be significantly longer than what's being offered in the plea. This "Price is Right" gamble on your future is where the power of E.D.C. lies. You're put on the spot and you have to make a decision, swiftly. Here are your options:
2. You can take the Plea or have a Second Hearing . . . the Preliminary Hearing.
Most people will take the Plea. The logic? Why roll the dice on your freedom, right? Well, that's not always the best option. It depends on the facts of your specific case, and the evidence that is likely to be available against and for your defense. But now you're wondering, where is MY evidence? You've just found the major flaw of E.D.C. At this early stage of your case, you will not receive ANY evidence. You will not receive any body camera footage. You will not receive any dash camera footage. You will not receive any witness statements. You will only have whatever police report was made that landed you in your situation, along with your criminal history. That's it. If you want to see any of those things, you'll be told by the County Attorney's Office that exercising your right to see the evidence against you will result in that Plea Offer you have being yanked. Any offer given later will be "substantially harsher." That's the written rule of the County Attorney. To get that evidence you'll be asked to either affirm or waive your Preliminary Hearing.
3. What's the Preliminary Hearing?
If you've gone through your status conference, reviewed your plea offer and decided you don't want it, you'll be asked to affirm or waive your Preliminary Hearing. What is that? Your Preliminary Hearing is a probable cause hearing. It's a hearing that allows you to exercise your constitutional right. When a person is charged with a crime, the court MUST determine that a crime was likely committed, and that you're the person who likely committed it before you can stand trial for a crime. The Preliminary Hearing is like a mini trial. Police reports and testimony are presented to the judge and both sides have the opportunity to question the evidence. If there's no probable cause, there can be no trial. But keep in mind, its not a huge burden for the state to meet and the chances of a dismissal at this stage aren't great.
If you've waived your Preliminary Hearing (often times the state will ask you to do this in exchange for keeping your plea offer open for awhile), you'll be put on the trial track and your trial process will begin.
On it's surface, E.D.C. is a great concept. The truth is, diversion programs are rarely offered in E.D.C. Far less than what most of us would consider reasonable. Instead, it's provided the County Attorney with the ability to swiftly "win" cases by forcing the low-level offender to take a plea or risk enormous consequences with a loss at trial, all while preventing the offender from the ability to see the evidence against them, despite a constitutional right to do so. So if you've found yourself in E.D.C. our attorneys here at Paradise Valley Law are happy to review your case and speak to you about your options. Call to schedule your free consultation.