Criminal offenses and charges in Arizona are divided into different classes of felonies and misdemeanors. Although the judge has some discretion in determining your sentence, the State of Arizona dictates sentencing guidelines that the judge must act within.
For each class of offenses there is a range. Within this range is a minimum and maximum sentence. Somewhere in between is what is referred to as a “presumptive sentence”, which is where most defendants are sentenced.
In order for the sentence to depart from the “presumptive sentence there must be aggravating (increasing the sentence) or mitigating (decreasing the sentence) circumstances present.
Arizona Felony Charges
For example, the following is for first time non-dangerous offenses:
|Felony Class||Minimum Sentence (in years)||Presumptive Sentence||Maximum Sentence|
|3||2 ½||3 ½||7|
|4||1 ½||2 ½||3|
Of course, if this is not your first felony conviction, the sentence will be greater. Likewise, if your conviction is for a dangerous offense (robbery, assault, etc) than the sentence will also be greater.
Arizona Misdemeanor Charges
Misdemeanor offenses are a little less complicated and not quite as serious. But you could still potentially face 6 months in jail on a misdemeanor criminal charge.
|Misdemeanor Class||Maximum jail sentence||Maximum fine|
Petty offenses don’t even rise to the level of misdemeanor charges. They are typically only subject to a citation and not arrestable offenses.
If you are a repeat felony offender or if this is your first conviction of a “dangerous” felony, the judge must sentence you to prison time. How much time you do depends mostly on the crime you have been convicted of.
A judge can depart slightly from the sentencing guidelines depending on different specifics that may be involved in your case. Circumstances that make your crime or your situation more serious, increasing the sentence, are referred to as aggravating circumstances.
If, however, your attorney can show that certain specifics about your case may warrant a lesser sentence, those are known as mitigating circumstances.
An experienced criminal defense attorney will thoroughly investigate your case and history to uncover any mitigating circumstances that can positively influence your sentence.
Federal Sentencing Guidelines
The Federal government also has sentencing guidelines that the judge must keep in mind when determining your sentence. These guidelines are even more complex that the Arizona sentencing guidelines and involve a formula to determine which “category” of sentencing your crime falls into.
Both State and Federal sentencing guidelines can be very complex and confusing. A skilled attorney can help you make sense of how your sentence will be determined and the potential prison time you may be facing.
The judge may determine that you are a “good risk” and sentence you to community supervision in lieu of prison time. While this is a better alternative, it doesn’t come without restrictions. While under probation you may be required to:
At sentencing the judge may add special conditions to your probation depending on the circumstances of your situation. While you are under supervision, your probation officer can also add conditions or adjust your supervision requirements.
Although probation is a pleasant alternative to serving active prison time, it is a privilege that can be revoked. If you violate the terms of probation, you may be brought before the judge and your prison time “activated”. This means that you may be required to serve the original potential sentence for your crime.
Although an attorney can assist you in probation revocation hearings, your best bet is to abide by the terms of your probation to avoid incarceration.
The final stage in the criminal court process is sentencing. Despite what some people may think there are many rules and laws that govern criminal sentencing in the State of Arizona. A skilled attorney can help you understand how these regulations affect your case and your freedom.
You have either pled guilty or been found guilty by the court-so what’s next?
The judge will probably set a sentencing date once the verdict or plea is entered. Very seldom does a judge impose a sentence the same day. This is because sentencing is a serious matter and the court wants to be sure they are making an informed decision.
Very generally speaking a misdemeanor has a potential sentence of less than one year in prison while a felony carries a potential sentence greater than a year.
In Arizona all cases that have the potential sentence of more than one year in prison require a pre-sentence report. The pre-sentence report is completed by a probation officer employed by the state of Arizona and is used to give information to the judge that will assist in the sentencing.
Pre-sentence investigations are still required when a plea agreement has been arranged.
The pre-sentence report includes a variety of information about you, all of which will help the judge determine your appropriate sentence. The investigating probation officer will collect all of the information needed and compile it into a report. Both the prosecution and your defense attorney will also receive a copy.
What can be included in the pre-sentence report?
- Circumstances of the crime
- Employment information (both past and present)
- Criminal and psychological history
- Family situation (past and present)
- Victim statements
- Applicable sentencing regulations
- Sentencing recommendation
The main purpose of the pre-sentence report is to determine if you are a good candidate for community supervision (probation). By looking at your stability in the community the court hopes to decide whether you can be considered a “good risk” or a risk not worth taking.
Although the officer will include a sentencing recommendation on the report, the judge is not required to follow it. However, a judge usually gives considerable weight to all of the information included in the report and the expertise of the investigating officer.
The investigating officer is required to furnish the court (and other parties involved) with the pre-sentence report at least 48 hours before sentencing.