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I am an attorney and law firm owner who practices in both Criminal Defense and Family Law matters. Please visit our website at www.PhoenixLawFirm.com or call my office at 623-738-5291 for a free consultation.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Felony Offenses in Arizona Explained

In Arizona there are six different types of felonies.  They range from Murder being the highest at a Class 1 felony down to a Class 6 being the lowest type of felony.   All are charged by the State in Superior Court.  In Arizona there are specific Sentencing Guidelines that the court must go by when sentencing someone to any level of felony.   Sentences can range from Probation with no jail time for lower level offenses with no priors up to Life in the Department of Corrections (i.e. Prison) or the Death Penalty for the worst offenses.   A Probation sentence can also include up to a year in the County Jail as punishment. 

There are some facts that may make a sentence for an offense harsher.  For instance, if the person has prior felony offenses then they placed in a higher sentencing range.  Or if in a drug offense there was an amount of the drug above the listed “threshold”, then they are also placed in a higher sentencing range.  Certain offenses such as Drug Offenses and Crimes Against Children have their own sentencing guidelines that are harsher than the traditional ones. 

Additionally, Felony Offenses can be charged as either “Dangerous” or “Non-Dangerous”.  An offense is deemed to be Dangerous if a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument was used in the offense.  This can include a variety of things such as guns, knives, vehicles, or sometimes even every day items such as a rock, letter opener, or hammer.  If the Felony Offense is labeled as Dangerous then the Defendant faces a higher sentencing range and is NOT eligible to get sentenced to Probation.  In other words, if a person is Found Guilty at trial or takes a plea to a Dangerous Offense then they must be sentenced to prison. 

Once it is determined which sentencing range the offense falls under, then the Court starts with the “Presumptive Sentence” and either increases it based on Aggravating factors or decreases it based on Mitigating factors.  These factors are presented to the Judge by Defense Counsel and the County Attorney.   The Judge decides the actual sentence if the person is Found Guilty after trial or Pleads Guilty in a plea bargain. 

There are several different types of Plea Bargains that can be reached.  A Plea is a set agreement where the Defendant pleads Guilty to the offense in exchange for getting a lesser sentence.  Please can either be open range, for example they may say 5-7 years, and the Judge decides where in that range they should fall.  Or a plea can be stipulated to, for example it may say 6 years, and in that case the Judge would sentence the person to that amount of time. 

With Class 6 felonies, there are a few different varieties.  A Class 6 felony can be either Designated or Undesignated (i.e. “Open”).  If the Class 6 felony is Designated, then it will remain a Class 6 felony on the person’s record.  However, in cases where the person does not have any priors and it is a lesser offense, it is possible for their attorney to negotiate an Undesignated or Open Class 6 Felony.  That means that after the person has finished their Probation and done everything they are supposed to, they can ask the Court to Designate (turn in to) the Offense a Misdemeanor.   Then they would no longer have a Felony on their record.  However, until such time as the Court Designates an offense to be a Misdemeanor then it is treated as a Felony for all other purposes.