Board Certified Specialist in Criminal Law in Arizona

The Arizona Board of Legal Specialization ("BLS") was granted authority to set the standards for certification in criminal law in accordance with the Rules and Regulations of the BLS established by the Arizona Board of Governors. The Criminal Law Advisory Commission provided advice when the objective and verifiable standards were created. The standards were last revised on January 1, 2013.

Renewal of certification must be completed every five (5) years. For purposes of re-certification, the attorney must show continued substantial involvement in criminal law including trials, hearings, litigation with respect to grand jury proceedings, pre-indictment representation, investigation and negotiations, independent counsel investigations for business clients, compliance representation, and teaching.

Although not all criminal defense attorneys in Arizona are a certified specialist, the attorneys who have earned this designation have submitted to an independent evaluation to verify their training and experience in this area of the law.


General Requirements for Certification in Criminal Law

The general requirements for becoming a certified specialist in criminal law in Arizona include:

  1. being active member in good standing of the Arizona State Bar;
  2. completing the appropriate application and furnish any supplemental information as required by the BLS of the Criminal Law Advisory Commission;
  3. complying with the applicable Rules and Regulations of the Arizona Board of Legal Specialization;
  4. paying the BLS application and testing fees;
  5. showing substantial involvement in the field of Criminal Law;
  6. obtaining references from at least five Arizona attorneys who practice in criminal law and/or judges before whom the applicant has appeared who are familiar with the attorney's practice; and
  7. passing a written examination on criminal law topics.

Basic Criminal Law Experience Requirements

For purposes of the standards of certification in criminal law, the term "serious felony offense" means a single offense which, upon conviction, carries a maximum sentence of five (5) years or more in prison.

The attorney must show that he or she has been principal counsel of record in ten (10) criminal felony jury trials (in at least five (5) of which a serious felony offense was tried); and fifteen (15) evidentiary or other hearings which involved substantially contested issues of law or fact.

The list of offenses that can qualify for the hearing requirement can include the following types of hearings (if substantially contested):

  • Motion to Suppress;
  • Motion in Limine;
  • Federal Sentencing involving difficult Guideline Sentencing issues;
  • State Sentencing (non—routine);
  • Admissibility of scientific evidence under Frye/Daubert;
  • Admissibility of eyewitness identification under Dessureault;
  • Admissibility of “prior bad acts” evidence under Rule 404(b) of Criminal Procedure (federal or state). 

The attorney must also show completion of a combination of at least five (5) of the following:

  • filing a petition or answer filed in special action proceedings in the Arizona Court of Appeals or the Arizona Supreme Court;
  • filing an appeal in the following courts in which briefs were filed by appellants and respondents: United States Supreme Court, United States Court of Appeals, Arizona Supreme Court or Arizona Court of Appeals;
  • filing a petition for post-conviction relief;
  • filing a petition for habeas corpus relief under Section 2254 of Title 28, United States Code; and
  • filing a motion to vacate or set aside sentence under Section 2255 of Title 28, United States Code.

Substantial Involvement in Criminal Law

To become a certified specialist in criminal law, the Arizona attorney must show that during a specified period, the attorney devoted at least have of his or her time spent in the full-time practice of law to "matters in which issues of criminal law are significant factors."

During those five years, the attorney must have served as principal counsel of record in at least 125 additional criminal matters. During the application period, the attorney must describe with particularity the cases that the attorney handled that involved exceptional complexity or resulted in an exceptional result.


Showing Competence and Integrity

The attorney must "demonstrate honesty, integrity, professionalism as defined by the Lawyer’s Creed of Professionalism of the State Bar of Arizona…." 

The attorney must also show a high degree of competence in the practice of criminal law including an understanding of the substantive law and rules of practice, procedure, evidence and ethics pertaining to criminal law.

The attorney must show a high degree of skill, thoroughness, preparation, effectiveness, professionalism, and judgment in the field of criminal law. The attorney must pass a written examination on criminal law topics.

The names of the attorneys that apply to become a certified specialist in criminal law will be published in a State Bar of Arizona publication. Other attorneys in the community are then provided with an opportunity for comment for at least 30 days before consideration of applications by the Advisory Commission.

Before becoming a board-certified specialist in criminal law by the Arizona Board of Legal Specialization, the attorney must complete a certain number of continuing legal education (CLE) seminars concentrated in substantive criminal issues and professional responsibility.


Additional Resources

Standards to be a Board Certified Attorney in Criminal Law in Arizona - Visit the website of the Arizona Bar to find the standards for earning board certification in criminal law. The standards for certification of lawyers specializing in criminal law were last revised on January 1, 2013, under the authority vested in the Arizona Board of Legal Specialization (“BLS”) by the Board of Governors of the State Bar of Arizona.


Finding a Criminal Defense Attorney in Arizona

If you need to find a criminal defense attorney in Arizona, then consider Arizona's board specialty certification program. These programs provide a powerful tool when the public begins their search for a qualified attorney that focuses on criminal law.

Although not all qualified attorneys are a certified specialist, the attorneys who have earned this important distinction have submitted to an independent evaluation of their training, experience, competency, and ethics.


This article was last updated on Monday, August 1, 2016.