Maricopa County’s Early Disposition Court, or EDC, is the court that can handle non-violent offenses involving simple drug possession. Cases heard by the EDC tend to get resolved very quickly, often in between 30 and 45 days, because EDC combines several court proceedings into a single hearing and the defendant pleads guilty.
1. What is Early Disposition Court?
Early Disposition Court, or EDC, is one of Arizona’s alternatives to the criminal justice system for people being accused of committing a low-level drug offense. It was formerly known as the Expedited Drug Court. The EDC was designed to move these minor offenses off the regular court docket and to speed up the resolution process.
Cases that are eligible for EDC are flagged during the defendant’s initial appearance. If the defendant chooses to consider a plea agreement in order to take their case before the EDC, a hearing at the EDC will be scheduled for within 10 days. This hearing combines the following pretrial procedures and court hearings:
It also eliminates the need for a grand jury indictment to determine whether there was probable cause, as well as case management or status conferences, or a settlement conference.
The combined EDC hearing is not presided over by a judge. Instead, a Superior Court commissioner hears the case. The defendant, however, still has a right to a defense lawyer at this court appearance, including a public defender if he or she cannot afford one.
At the hearing, defendants are only given a glimpse of the evidence against them – usually just a police report – before having to decide whether to plead guilty or not. If the defendant decides not to plead guilty, then the case will be taken back out of Early Disposition Court and sent back to a:
- Municipal Court or Justice Court, if the charge was a misdemeanor, or
- Superior Court, if it was a felony
If the defendant decides to accept the plea offer, then the case moves straight to sentencing.
The sentence imposed by the Early Disposition Court cannot include incarceration or prison time at the Department of Corrections. Instead, the sentence has to be suspended and the defendant put on probation with the Adult Probation Department and Pretrial Services. This probation cannot be revoked for a probation violation to send the probationer to jail or prison. The release conditions of the probation have to be focused on drug treatment programs.
In all, this process usually takes a little over a month to resolve a criminal case, from arrest to sentencing – far shorter than a case that goes all the way to a trial date.
After sentencing, the defendant will usually have to complete a drug treatment program. If completed successfully, the case is dismissed.
There are 2 Early Disposition Courts in the Maricopa County Superior Court system: One is in Phoenix, while the other is in Mesa.
EDC was formed in 1997 in response to the passage of Proposition 200. This criminal law, which passed in 2016, required that defendants convicted for drug possession for personal use after the law’s passage be eligible for probation.
By 2008, Early Disposition Court was resolving around one-third of all felonies filed by law enforcement in Maricopa County.1
2. What cases are eligible?
The vast majority of the court cases that are eligible for Early Disposition Court are non-violent drug offenses. The case has to involve the possession of drug paraphernalia or below the threshold amount of drugs that distinguish simple drug possession from possession with an intent to sell. The type of drug does not matter. EDC can resolve cases involving:
- prescription drugs, or
- other dangerous drugs.
In addition to drug offenses, EDC can hear criminal charges involving welfare fraud filed by the Office of the Arizona Attorney General.
However, some defendants have criminal records that make them ineligible for EDC. Only first- or second-time offenders can have their cases resolved through the Early Disposition Court.
3. How does it fit in Arizona’s Superior Court system?
Maricopa County’s Early Disposition Court is similar to an Arizona drug court in that it removes minor offenses from the traditional criminal justice system. This drastically reduces the number of court dates necessary, freeing up court resources for more severe cases. It also helps defendants resolve their case far more quickly than if they took the case to trial, and directs them to drug treatment programs, mental health services, and rehab.
However, because defendants do not get to see much of the evidence that has been gathered against them by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, EDC can mean that criminal cases are unchallenged by defendants. This can prevent a criminal defense attorney from determining if the prosecutor’s case is a strong one that can be beaten in court. For felony cases, the lack of evidence disclosure can be especially problematic.
4. Where is it?
The Early Disposition Court has 2 locations in Maricopa County.
The one in downtown Phoenix is at 175 West Madison Street, on the second floor. This is the same building as the Regional Court Center (RCC).
The one in Mesa is at 222 East Javelina Avenue.