Updated: February 9, 2021
How Does Felony Sentencing Work in Arizona?
Arizona has mandatory sentencing laws. This means that a judge is restricted to giving a sentence within a certain range depending on the crime. This gives the court some discretion to decide a defendant’s sentence, but the Arizona legislature has set the minimum sentence and maximum sentence.
Here is a picture of the sentencing chart.
How to Read the Sentencing Chart
Dangerous vs. Non-Dangerous Crimes
Arizona crimes are broadly divided into two categories: dangerous crimes and non-dangerous crimes. If a crime is designated as “dangerous” this increases the sentencing range for the crime.
The top two boxes show the sentencing ranges for “non-dangerous” crimes. The bottom two boxes show the sentencing ranges for “dangerous” crimes.
A dangerous crime is one that involves the discharge, use or threatening exhibition of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument or the intentional or knowing inflicting of serious physical injury. You will know whether a crime is charged as dangerous or not because it will be on the criminal complaint and grand jury indictment.
Felony Levels: Class 2 to Class 6
For each crime there is a sentencing range based on the level of felony of the crime. These felonies range from a class 2 felony (the most serious) down to a class 6 felony (the least serious). Every crime in Arizona has a designated class of felony by law. The type of crime will determine the level of felony.
Sentencing Ranges within Crimes
The ranges for each crime go fall under the five categories: Mit, Min, P, Max, Agg which stand for the following:
- Mit: Mitigated range
- Min: Minimum range
- P: Presumptive
- Max: Maximum range
- Agg: Aggravated range
The“presumptive” is the default sentence for the crime. In other words, the law “presumes” that this will be the sentence for the crime. However, a judge can decrease the sentence to the minimum range or increase it to the maximum range if he finds at least one mitigating or aggravating factor.
“Minimum” and “Maximum” are slightly misleading terms, however, because the sentence can actually be lowered to the “mitigated” or increased to the “aggravated.” In order to do so, the judge must find that at least two “mitigating” or “aggravating” factors exist.
Usually, the defense attorney will present “mitigating” factors to judge during sentencing, and the prosecutor will present “aggravating” factors in an attempt to make the sentence more lenient or harsher, respectively. Mitigating the aggravating factors are described more below.
Number of Prior Felony Convictions
The final factor for determining what sentencing range a crime will fall under is the defendant’s criminal history. The top box on the sentencing chart shows the ranges for non-dangerous crimes committed by first-time felony offenders. Note that what is important here is not whether the defendant has any prior misdemeanor convictions. A defendant’s crime will fall in this first box as long as he has not prior felony convictions.
Most non-dangerous, first-time felony offenses are eligible for probation. But the judge can still order prison time if he chooses.
It is up to the judge’s discretion whether to sentence a defendant to prison or probation. If a defendant is sentenced to probation, he may still have to serve up to 12 months’ jail.
First-time offenders that have committed a “dangerous” crime (this references the third box) require a prison sentence if the defendant is convicted.
The same is true for repeat-offenders. A person who is convicted of a second felony is required to be sentenced to prison under Arizona law. For non-dangerous crimes, repeat offenders will be sentenced under the second box.
- A “category 1” repeat offender has 1 non-historical prior (meaning it is older than 7 years) or has two crimes that are charged in the same complaint but are on different dates. For example, assume a defendant who has no prior felony convictions is charged with two counts of theft. One count of theft occurred in October, the second count occurred in November. If he is convicted of both counts, he will be sentenced for the October theft as a non-dangerous first-time felony and is eligible for probation; but for the November theft he will be sentenced as a Category 1 offender and must receive a prison sentence.
- A “category 2” offender has 1 historical prior (a prior felony conviction within the past 7 years), or 2 non-historical priors (two convictions that are older than 7 years), or if this is the third date of offense in the same complaint. For instance, let’s assume our defendant in the example above also had a third charge in his complaint for a theft that occurred in December. If he is convicted of all three theft charges, he will now be sentenced for the December theft as a category 2 offender.
- A “category 3” offender has 2 or more historical priors (i.e., two felony convictions within the past 7 years).
How Does Felony Probation Affect Sentencing?
If a defendant is convicted while he is already on probation for a prior felony, then the lowest possible sentence that can be offered by the judge is the presumptive. The defendant cannot receive any sentence in the mitigated or minimum ranges. The defendant may, however, receive a higher sentence up to the aggravated.
What are Mitigating Factors?
Mitigating factors are factors used in sentencing to allow a judge to lower the sentence to something in the minimum or mitigated ranges. A judge must find at least one mitigating factor to reduce a sentence to the “minimum” and must find at least two mitigating factors to reduce the sentence to the “mitigated.”
Mitigating factors are described under ARS 13-701 and include the following:
- The defendant’s age
- The defendant’s ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of the crime
- The defendant was under duress
- The defendant’s participation in the crime was minor
- The defendant complied with duties to report a vehicular accident
- Any other relevant factor in the defendant’s character or background or regarding the nature of the crime
What are Aggravating Factors?
Aggravating factors, in contrast, let a judge increase the sentence to the maximum or aggravated range. One aggravating factor is required for the sentence to be increased to the maximum and two are required for an aggravated sentence.
Aggravating factors are described under ARS 13-701 and include:
- The crime involved the infliction of serious injury
- A deadly weapon was used
- Property was damaged
- An accomplice was involved
- The crime was especially cruel
- The defendant expected to receive a financial benefit from the crime
- The defendant was a public servant
- The victim suffered physical, emotional, or financial harm
- The crime was committed in the presence of a child.