In Arizona, by law crimes are either felonies or misdemeanors.
Misdemeanors are less serious crimes, such as underage drinking, marijuana or drug paraphernalia possession for personal use, some DUIs and providing false information to police offers. They are broken into three categories: Class 1 (most serious), Class 2 and Class 3 (least serious).
Most first-time offenses do not result in jail time, except DUIs which carry mandatory jail sentences.
Felonies are serious crimes: extreme DUIs, arson, murder, manslaughter, rape.
The Initial Process
When you are charged, you will be given a citation by the officer charging you with the charge, statute violated and a date and time to appear in court.
The initial court appearance is called an arraignment. Facts of the case are not discussed. A judge will only ask how you plead: guilty, not guilty or no contest. In some situations a judge may offer a diversion program as an alternative to a plea.
A guilty or no contest plea in some cases can end with a fine, which is paid immediately without any future court dates, but a criminal conviction remains on your record permanently. If you do not have money to pay the fine the court will set up a payment plan for you.
A not guilty plea results in a new court date or in some Arizona counties a pre-trial conference.
Even if you are guilty, it is common to plead non-guilty to create more opportunities for better results, such as a plea bargain. It is not considered lying to the court to plead not guilty when you have committed the crime and it is ok to change your plea at a later point.
If the case is dismissed, it means the city or county will no longer proceed with the charges and a conviction for the crime will not appear on your record. However, the misdemeanor or felony charge will remain on your record