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Sentencing in Arizona Criminal Cases

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The trial court is the decision-maker in determining the appropriate sentence. (In some states the jury imposes the sentence.) The options available to the trial court include imprisonment, or various types of probation. The trial court is bound by the sentencing guidelines passed by the state legislature. The legislature has determined that certain offenses warrant a more stringent sentence. Some of those offenses include drug offenses, crimes committed with a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument, crimes against children, crimes committed while on release (probation, out of custody, parole), and crimes committed by repeat offenders. For example, a defendant found guilty of a dangerous crime against children in the first degree (e.g. crimes of violence, sexual conduct and sexual abuse, commercial sexual exploitation of a minor, and kidnapping) “shall be sentenced to a presumptive term of imprisonment for 20 years.” A.R.S. §

Also, a defendant who commits an offense while released on bail or on the defendant’s own recognizance “shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment 2 years longer than would otherwise be imposed.” A.R.S. § 13-604(R).

The trial court has the discretion to sentence a defendant to a term of imprisonment within the statutory guidelines. A.R.S. § 13-702-10. The sentence ranges includes a mitigated, presumptive, and aggravated term of imprisonment. Felonies range from a class 2 felony to a class 6 felony. A class 2 felony is the most serious offense other than first-degree murder. A class 6 felony is the least serious felony. The sentencing range for felonies increases with the seriousness of the offense.Prior to imposing sentence, the trial court must consider the aggravating circumstances presented by the state and the mitigating circumstances presented by the defendant. The trial court also considers the probation officer’s recommendation and the victim’s statement.

The trial court is not required to accept the aggravating and mitigating circumstances at face value. Rather, the trial court has the discretion to evaluate the relevance and credibility of evidence. For example, often times the defendant will express remorse of their offense. The trial court determines whether a defendant’s expression of remorse is genuine. In some cases the trial court finds that the defendant is only remorseful for getting caught and facing a prison term. Additionally, in capital cases, the Arizona Supreme Court has consistently rejected a defendant’s claim in mitigation that they were raised in an abusive childhood, finding that, “The remedy for one who has been molested is not to molest others and ask to be excused, but rather to submit to therapy, which, as noted above, defendant has repeatedly refused to do.” State v. Atwood, 171 Ariz. 576, 655, 832 P.2d 593, 679 (1992).

If the defendant is convicted of a probation eligible offense, the trial court may suspend the imposition of a prison sentence and impose probation. There are many types of probation including intensive probation (A.R.S. § 13-913), supervised probation, and unsupervised probation. A.R.S. § 901. In all types of probation, the trial court has the discretion to sentence the defendant to serve 1 year in jail. Intensive probation has very strict requirements, including that the defendant must contact his/her probation officer on a weekly basis, must be employed, actively seeking employment, or in school. The length of probation ranges from 7 years for a class 2 felony, to 3 years for a class 5 or 6 felony. A.R.S. § 13-902(A). These periods of probation may be shortened or lengthened by the trial court. Additionally, the trial court has the discretion to impose lifetime probation for defendants who are convicted of sexual offenses, sexual exploitation of children, and child or vulnerable adult abuse.

The trial court also has the option at sentencing to classify a class 6 felony as an “open-ended offense” or an “undesignated offense.” Following the defendant’s successful completion of probation, the trial court has the discretion to designate the offense as a misdemeanor. This provides further incentive for the defendant to comply with probation. A class 6 undesignated felony offense is considered a felony for all purposes until the trial court makes a final designation.

Following a sentence of imprisonment, the defendant has 30 days to file a notice of appeal in the Arizona Court of Appeals. The defendant is entitled to legal representation on appeal. If the defendant is unsuccessful in his/her direct appeal, he/she can file a petition for review in the Arizona Supreme Court. The Arizona Supreme Court has discretionary review of petitions for review and accepts only 10% of the petitions filed.

Arizona State Board of Nursing guidelines for sexual misconduct and boundary violation cases

Categories : Criminal Law
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The Arizona Defense Law Blog is published by Phoenix DUI and criminal defense attorney Joshua S. Davidson. Nothing on this website is intended to create an Attorney-Client relationship and the information provided herein is for general information purposes only.


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