What is a misdemeanor?
A misdemeanor is a category of crime in Arizona. Generally speaking, crimes are broken down into three categories in Arizona:
- Misdemeanors; and
- Petty crimes
A misdemeanor is a lesser type of crime than a felony offense, but it is more serious than a petty offense.
Misdemeanors are further broken down into three classes:
- Class 1 misdemeanors;
- Class 2 misdemeanors; and
- Class 3 misdemeanors
A class 3 misdemeanor is the least serious type of misdemeanor, and the potential punishments are limited. Whereas, a class 1 misdemeanor is the most serious type of misdemeanor crime. Certain types of felony crimes, specifically those classified as class 6 felonies, may also be charged as misdemeanors instead of felonies.
Examples of misdemeanors
A number of commonly charged crimes in Arizona are classified as misdemeanors. Common misdemeanors include:
- Driving on a suspended license;
- Criminal damage (if the value of the property damaged is less than $1000);
- Theft (if the value stolen is less than $1000);
- False reporting to law enforcement;
- Interference with judicial proceedings.
What are the penalties for a misdemeanor?
The possible penalty for a misdemeanor crime depends on the class of misdemeanors. Depending on the category of misdemeanor, the crime is subject to a different maximum amount of jail time and fines. A chart breaking down the possible punishments for misdemeanors by class is below:
|Maximum Jail Time
Note: According to ARS 13-707, “A person who is at least eighteen years of age or who has been tried as an adult and who stands convicted of any misdemeanor or petty offense, other than a traffic offense, and who has been convicted of one or more of the same misdemeanors or petty offenses within two years next preceding the date of the present offense shall be sentenced for the next higher class of offense than that for which the person currently is convicted.”
Example: A person is convicted of minor in consumption, a class 2 misdemeanor in 2017. In 2018, he commits another charge of minor in consumption and is convicted. Because he committed the same misdemeanor within 2 years, the minor in consumption charge is treated as if it is a class 1 misdemeanor rather than a class 2 misdemeanor.
Example: Same facts as above, except this time the second charge for minor in consumption is committed in 2021. The crime is still treated as a class 2 misdemeanor in this scenario because it was committed more than two years ago.
Many misdemeanors, most notably DUI, have mandatory minimum jail time. Other misdemeanors, including DUI and domestic violence crimes also have other additional penalties such as mandatory counseling, Ignition Interlock Devices, and community service.
There are also certain collateral consequences when a person receives a misdemeanor conviction. In other words, these are penalties that are not prescribed by law necessarily, but will occur if you have a criminal record. This can include:
- Higher car insurance rates for misdemeanors that are driving related;
- Requirement to report the conviction on job applications;
- Requirement to report the crime on rental applications;
- Consequences for professional licensing;
- Immigration consequences/deportation.
How are misdemeanors different from felonies?
Misdemeanors are considered to be less serious crimes than felonies. The fines for misdemeanors are less severe than the fines for felony offenses, and possible jail time is not as long. Generally, incarceration for misdemeanor crimes is short-term.
On the other hand, felony crimes are subject to much longer periods of incarceration (all the way up to life imprisonment for class 1 felonies). Furthermore, while incarceration for a misdemeanor is served in a jail, either at the city level or the county; incarceration for a felonies is generally served in an Arizona prison (i.e., the Department of Corrections). Felonies also result in the defendant losing certain civil rights, such as the right to vote and right to bear arms. Misdemeanors do not result in these penalties.
Can a felony crime be charged as a misdemeanor?
Yes, but only a specific category of felony. The prosecutor has the option of charging class 6 felonies as either felonies or class 1 misdemeanors. Class 1 through class 5 felonies cannot be charged as misdemeanors.
What courts prosecute misdemeanors?
Misdemeanor charges can be brought in what are known as “limited jurisdiction courts.” These courts are used to charge lesser crimes than felonies. They include city courts or municipal courts as well as justice courts. Misdemeanor charges can also be brought in the superior court when they are charged along with a felony crime.
What is the statute of limitations for misdemeanors?
Every crime in Arizona (except for class 1 felonies) has a statute of limitations. This means that a prosecutor must bring a case against a person for the crime within a certain period of time. Charges cannot be brought outside of this time period, even if the state has solid evidence of the crime.
According to ARS 13-107, the statute of limitations for misdemeanors is 1 year.
Note: The period of limitation does not run during any time when the accused is absent from the state or has no reasonably ascertainable place of abode within the state.
What is the court process for a misdemeanor case?
Cases that are charged as misdemeanors are filed in either a justice court, city court, or municipal court. When a misdemeanor occurs within a city’s limits, it will be filed in the city or municipal court for the jurisdiction where the crime occurred. For example, a crime that occurs in downtown Scottsdale will be filed in Scottsdale City Court. Crimes that occur on state property, highways, or “county islands” (i.e., unincorporated areas) are filed in the local justice courts.
Each city has its own prosecutor’s office that handles misdemeanors in the particular city or municipal court. Thus, the Scottsdale City Prosecutor handles charges in Scottsdale City Court; the Phoenix Prosecutor’s Office handles matters in Phoenix Municipal Court, and so on. The County prosecutes cases filed in justice court.
While courts all have their own unique procedures, there is a general pattern for misdemeanor cases:
- Initial appearance or arraignment: When you get arrested for a misdemeanor and the police office hands you a misdemeanor complaint (this is the piece of paper that has your criminal charges), that paper will also have a court date for your arraignment. The purpose of an arraignment is for you to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty for the charges. Usually, if you hire a criminal defense attorney, your lawyer will be able to file a motion called a “notice of appearance” on your behalf prior to the arraignment date. The notice of appearance will usually have the effect of entering a “not guilty plea” on your behalf. This will satisfy the requirements of the arraignment so that you do not have to appear in court for this date. You will then receive a new court date for a “pretrial conference.”
- Pretrial Conference: A pretrial conference is a hearing that is held after the arraignment but before a trail. There are not witnesses during these hearings. Usually, the only people that will be present are the prosecutor, the judge, and the defense attorney. Sometimes you may be required to appear for a pretrial conference, but many times an attorney can appear on your behalf without the need for you being present. The pretrial conference is a time for the attorneys to discuss the case, exchange discovery, and negotiate a plea agreement.
- Pretrial Evidentiary Hearings: Sometimes a case will have an evidentiary hearing prior to trial. These hearings are like mini-trials. There are usually witnesses, but the purpose of the hearing is to determine only a specific question; it is not used to determine your guilt or innocence. For example, an evidentiary hearing may be held for the judge to decide if the traffic stop was illegal or if the police violated your constitutional rights. If that occurred, then certain evidence may be suppressed (i.e., the prosecutor loses the right to use the evidence at trial), or the case may be dismissed entirely. These types of hearings do not occur in every case, but only when the facts support challenging a particular part of the state’s evidence.
- Change of Plea Hearings & Sentencing: If your attorney and the prosecutor were able to negotiate a plea agreement that you would like to accept, then a change of plea hearing will be set. This is a hearing that occurs which does require your presence and where you will enter in the plea agreement. You may proceed to sentencing the same day, or a separate sentencing hearing may be set out about a month or so in advance where the judge will determine the punishment for your case.
- Trial: If the case is not dismissed and you do not wish to accept the plea agreement presented by the prosecutor, then you have the right to a trial. For a misdemeanor case, the trial may be in front of a jury or it may be a bench trial, which is a trial that just has a judge but no jury. Whether the trial is a jury or bench trial depends on the type of crime involved. Witnesses will testify, and then the judge or jury will decide the question of guilt.