Criminal Sentencing in Arizona

Criminal Sentencing in Arizona
If you are convicted of a crime in the State of Arizona, the judge will set your penalty depending on a variety of factors. Judges must follow sentencing guidelines while doing this. Understanding these guidelines is beneficial if you are currently facing criminal charges. That being said, each case is unique and it's important to consult with a criminal defense attorney to get personalized assistance.

How Judges Use Sentencing Guidelines

Arizona's criminal code breaks crimes up into two broad categories: misdemeanors and felonies. These are further split up into various classes, with class one being the most severe category in both cases. For felonies, the least severe category is class six, whereas the least severe for misdemeanors is class three. Crimes are also categorized as either dangerous or non-dangerous. A dangerous crime is one that involves using or threatening to use a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument. Each class of felony or misdemeanor has corresponding sentencing guidelines that give the prison or jail sentences and fines that are applicable for each category. Some crimes, such as driving under the influence (DUI), have additional penalties.

Sentencing Ranges

The sentencing guidelines that judges use give a range of sentences by using five different categories: mitigated, minimum, presumptive, maximum, and aggravated. Judges use the facts of the case to set their sentences based on the rough guidelines of these categories. Here are descriptions of what each of those five categories mean:

Mitigated

A mitigated sentence is the lowest possible number of years in jail/prison for a crime. In order to give this sentence, the judge must identify mitigating factors. Some possible mitigating factors include:
  • The role the defendant played in the crime (E.g. were they a minor accomplice, or did they plan the crime?)
  • Whether or not the defendant committed the crime under duress
  • Whether or not the defendant complied with law enforcement officers and the court system after being charged
  • The defendant's age
  • The defendant's ability to understand what they did and that it was wrong (i.e. mental impairment at a level that does not constitute a defense to prosecution itself)
  • Any other relevant factors that display the defendant's character or background, at the judge's discretion

Minimum

The minimum sentence is the least severe penalty a judge can give for a crime under normal circumstances, or if there is only one mitigating factor present. However, it is not technically the "minimum" since the mitigated sentence is lower.

Presumptive

This is the default sentence, i.e. the one that is assumed if there are no mitigating or aggravating factors.

Maximum

If the judge determines that there is one aggravating factor but not enough to justify an aggravated sentence, they will sentence the defendant to the maximum penalty. Like the minimum isn't truly the minimum, this isn't truly the maximum since the judge can give out the aggravated sentence in certain circumstances.

Aggravated

An aggravated sentence is the most possible years in jail/prison that a judge can sentence a defendant to. In order to give this sentence, the judge must identify aggravating factors. Some possible aggravating factors include:
  • Use of a deadly weapon
  • Damage to property
  • Presence of an accomplice
  • An especially cruel crime
  • The infliction of serious injury
  • If the crime was committed in the presence of a child
  • The degree of emotional, financial, or physical harm to the victim
  • If the defendant received a financial benefit from committing the crime
  • If the defendant was a public servant

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