You can either be arrested for a misdemeanor or a felony violation. Felony charges carry severe penalties upon conviction compared to misdemeanors. Additionally, felony offenses are further divided into 6 classes, each with its specific penalties. Of the 6 felony classes, Class 1 felonies impose the most severe penalties.
Facing criminal charges is unsettling. It may also seem like serving the prison sentences as prescribed under the law is inevitable. While prison time is a possibility, you can fight the charges through the help of a criminal defense attorney. The attorney can secure a dismissal of your case or a reduction of the charges and penalties if convicted. Therefore, if you are charged with a crime, do not hesitate. Contact the team at Phoenix Criminal Attorney immediately.
Classification of Felonies In Arizona
Prosecutors pursue three categories of crimes namely, felonies, misdemeanors, and petty offenses. Felonies are the most severe of the three offenses and carry significant penalties upon conviction.
Felonies are further divided into six categories.
- Class 1 felonies
- Class 2 felonies
- Class 3 felonies
- Class 4 felonies
- Class 5 felonies
- Class 6 felonies
Class 1 Felonies
Homicide crimes, first-degree and second-degree murder, fall into the Class 1 felonies category.
The premeditated killing of another person, including an unborn child, is a crime. Under Arizona law, you will be guilty of first-degree murder in the following scenarios.
- You premeditated and intentionally took the life of another human being. Premeditation refers to planning to kill another beforehand (within a time that would allow for planning and reflection). Therefore, prosecutors must demonstrate that you acted with either the knowledge or intention that you would kill another.
- You, acting alone or with one or more accomplices, committed a felony offense and killed another human being in the process. It should be established that you either killed another person while committing said felony or while fleeing the scene.
If the circumstances are true, you will be found guilty under Arizona’s felony murder rule.
Under the rule, you must have committed or attempted to commit the following felonies:
- Child abuse, a violation of ARS 13-3623
- Sexual assault, an offense under ARS 13-1406,
- Molestation of a minor, a violation of ARS 13-1410
- Sexual conduct with a minor, a violation of ARS 13-1405,
- Robbery, a violation of ARS 13-1902, 13-1903, or 13-1904
- Kidnapping, a violation of ARS 13-1304
- Escape in the second degree, a violation of Criminal Code 13-2503 or 13-2504
- Burglary, an offense under Section 13-1506, 13-1507, or 13-1508
- Marijuana offenses, a violation of ARS 13-3405
- Narcotics offenses, a violation of ARS 13-3408.
- Dangerous drug offenses, a violation of ARS 13-3407,
- Using minors in drug offenses, a violation of ARS 13-3409,
- Arson, a violation of ARS 13-1703 or 13-1704
- Terrorism, a violation of ARS 13-2308.01
- Drive-by shooting, a violation of ARS 13-1209
- Unlawful flight from a pursuing law enforcement vehicle, a violation of ARS 28-622.01,
- You deliberately caused the death of a law enforcement officer in the line of duty.
Penalties for First-Degree Murder
First-degree murder convictions attract both fines and either a natural life prison sentence or life in prison. The death penalty is also a possibility. Additionally, you will part with $150,000 in fines upon conviction.
Judges issue either a life sentence or a natural life sentence (life imprisonment) for prison terms. There is a difference between the two.
When sentenced to life in prison, you are eligible for parole after 25 years. You would be released if you have completed 25 years of your sentence if the victim was 15 years or older. This decision will be determined by the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency.
If the victim was below 15 years of age, you would have to serve a minimum of 35 years in prison.
If you are given a natural life sentence, you will remain in prison until you die.
Further, the judge could issue the death penalty if the case warrants it. The penalties are based on the severity of the circumstances in your case.
The judge’s decision to issue a natural life prison sentence, life imprisonment, or a death sentence takes into account aggravating and mitigating factors proven in the case. Aggravating factors increase the severity and culpability for the crime you are charged with, thus increasing the severity of the punishment. Prosecutors will table them in the case and they will be expected to prove each of them beyond a reasonable doubt.
On the other hand, mitigating factors are presented by your defense attorney. These factors increase the need for leniency.
In deciding whether to prefer a life in a prison sentence or a natural life prison sentence, the court takes into account up to 27 statutory aggravating circumstances and 6 mitigating factors. The aggravating factors considered include:
- The presence of an accomplice
- If the victim had a disability
- The use of a deadly weapon when committing the crime
- If you stole property while committing the murder — The value of the stolen property will also be factored in the decision.
- The demise of an unborn child during the commission of the crime
- Any prior conviction of felonies like aggravated assault, or sexual assault in the past ten years
- You impersonated a police officer
- Your character and background and if they meet the threshold of aggravating factors.
Your attorney will present any of the following mitigating factors:
- Your age
- Your appreciation of the wrongfulness of your conduct
- Your capacity to conform to the dictates o the law was significantly impaired but not to the extent requiring you to plead insanity as a defense
- You were under substantial or unusual duress but not enough to use as a defense in your charges
- The risk of death was not reasonably foreseeable
- You were an accomplice but played a minor role
If prosecutors prove that at least one of the following aggravating factors was an element in your case, with no mitigating circumstances, you will face the death penalty. They, however, need to inform the court of their intention to pursue the death penalty through a notice.
The aggravating factors considered in this pursuit include:
- You were convicted of another offense for which, under Arizona law, the crime is punishable by life imprisonment or a death sentence.
- You were previously convicted of a serious crime committed simultaneously as the homicide or not executed at the same time as the homicide but charged alongside the homicide charge.
- You paid for, promised payment, or gave away anything of value in exchange for the murder. Or you murdered another in exchange for payment, the promise of payment, or receipt of anything of value
- You murdered another in a cruel, heinous, or depraved manner
- You committed the offense while:
- On probation for a felony
- In the custody of or on an unauthorized or authorized release from a law enforcement agency, the state department of corrections, or jail
- You have been convicted of additional homicides committed at the same time as the murder you are currently charged for
- You were an adult at the time of committing the offense, and the victim was under 15 years, older than 70 years, or was an unborn child.
- The victim was an on-duty peace officer discharging their duties, and you knew or should have reasonably known that the victim was a peace officer.
- You committed the offense in furtherance of gang activity
- You killed another to prevent the victim from cooperating with law enforcement officers, offering their testimony in a court proceeding, or in retaliation for their testimony in a court proceeding
Note: Defendants below 18 years when they committed the offense do not face the death penalty.
- Second-Degree Murder
You will be found guilty of second-degree murder in Arizona if:
- You intentionally take the life of another or an unborn child — Intentionally means that you took deliberate or purposeful actions to take another’s life.
- You caused the death of another, including an unborn child, while aware that your actions could cause death or inflict significant bodily injury to the victim — Being aware or knowing in this context shows that you understood that your actions could result in the death of another.
- Under the circumstances, you showed extreme disregard for human life by recklessly engaging in activities that created a serious risk of death and thus caused the death of another or an unborn child. — Reckless engagement refers to actions a defendant is aware of that substantially increase the risk of serious harm or death. You can only be found guilty if prosecutors prove that you engaged in extremely reckless behavior. The courts determine what constitutes extreme recklessness.
Penalties for Second-Degree Murder
As is the case in first-degree murder, a conviction results in fines and a prison sentence. The fine imposed amounts to no more than $150,000. As for the prison terms, they vary based on the circumstances of each case.
Prison sentences for second-degree murder offenders are as follows:
First-time offenders risk:
- A 25-year aggravated sentence, which is issued because of aggravating factors in the case
- A 16-year presumptive sentence, which is the standard prison sentence for the offense, or
- A 10-year mitigated sentence, issued when the courts are compelled to act in leniency owing to the mitigating actors present in your case
If you have a prior second-degree murder conviction or a dangerous felony conviction, the judge will issue Class 2 or 3 felony prison terms. The more severe prison terms are as follows:
- A 29-year aggravated sentence
- A 20-year presumptive sentence
- A 15-year mitigated sentence
The aggravating and mitigating factors in second-degree murder convictions are the same as those relevant in first-degree murder trials.
Arizona Criminal Time Limitations
Criminal Time Limitations, also known as the criminal statute of limitations, refers to the maximum period the State of Arizona allows for prosecutors to bring forth criminal charges against you. That means if you are arrested or charged for a crime within a period beyond that prescribed under ARS 1-107, your defense attorney will use this past time as a compelling argument to have the charges dismissed.
Class 1 Felonies
Under Arizona law, there is no statute of limitations for Class 1 felonies. It means that prosecutors can pursue first-degree or second-degree murder charges at any time after you allegedly committed the offense. Other felonies do have a prescribed time limit.
Class 2 Felonies
Class 2 felonies carry presumptive prison sentences of up to 12 years and six months, with a maximum of 35 years upon conviction. The felonies are categorized under dangerous offenses against children under 15 years, dangerous and non-dangerous crimes.
Dangerous offenses, in this case, refer to crimes where a defendant threatens to use or uses a dangerous weapon on a victim and knowingly inflicts physical injury on a victim. Prosecutors have seven years to file charges.
Dangerous Class 2 offenses include:
- Sexual assault
- Armed robbery
- Arson of an occupied building
- Aggravated assault that causes serious injury, and
- Any dangerous crime against children including kidnapping, sex trafficking, second-degree murder, using a minor in a drug crime, child molestation, and sexual assault or abuse
Non-dangerous Class 2 offenses include:
- Theft by extortion,
- Theft of property valued at $25,000 or more,
- Trafficking in stolen property, in the first-degree
- Money laundering in the first degree
- Operating or owning a chop shop, and
- Particular severe drug crimes.
Class 3 Felonies
Class 3 offenses are either dangerous or non-dangerous offenses. Any offense committed on a child below 15 years falls in the dangerous category. Prosecutors are expected to file criminal charges within seven years after the crime was committed. A conviction will see you serve a presumptive sentence of between 2 years and 8 years-9 months.
Dangerous crimes under Class 3 felonies include:
- Aggravated robbery
- Aggravated assault
- Attempting to commit Class 2 felonies, and
- Discharging a firearm at a non-residential structure
Non-dangerous crimes include:
- Second-degree money laundering
- Second-degree burglary
- Cultivation of more than 4 pounds of marijuana, and
- Property theft valued between $4,000 and $25,000
Class 4 Felonies
Felonies under Class 4 are punishable by fines and presumptive prison sentences of between one year to 3 years and 9 months, with a possible maximum of 16 years. Prosecutors are expected to have filed Class 4 felony charges in 7 years from when the crime was committed.
Class 4 dangerous felonies include:
- Misconduct involving weapons, and
- Aggravated DUI or DUID
Non-dangerous felonies include:
- Theft of property valued between $3,000 and $4,000
- Criminal damage
- Third-degree burglary
- Selling unregistered securities
- Misuse of public funds by an official
- Falsifying a public record
- Bribery, and
- Failing to maintain registration or register as a sex offender
Class 5 Felonies
If charged with a Class 5 felony, you are looking at fines and prison time ranging from 6 months to two and a half years. With aggravating factors, the prison sentence could increase to 8 years. Similar to the above felonies, the prosecutor can only bring Class 5 felony charges seven years after you allegedly committed the crime.
Felonies under this category include:
- Sexual abuse
- Animal cruelty
- Aggravated domestic violence
- Failure to appear for court
- Aggravated assault on a peace officer
- Public sexual indecency involving a minor
- Obstructing a criminal investigation
- Unlawful use of means of transportation
- Criminal damage of property valued between $2,000 and $10,000
- Theft of property valued between $2,000 and $3,000
- Attempting to commit a Class 4 felony, and
- Possession of between 2 and 4 pounds of marijuana
Class 6 Felonies
Arizona punishes Class 6 felony offenders with a prison term of 4 months to two years. You are looking at six years in prison if aggravating circumstances are proven in the case. These crimes can also be charged as misdemeanors.
For felonies, prosecutors have a maximum of 7 years after the commission of the crime to file charges and one year for misdemeanors.
Examples of the crimes under Class 6 include the following:
- Criminal impersonation
- Unlawful imprisonment
- Aggravated assault after breaking and entering
- Attempting to commit a Class 5 felony
- Sexual conduct with a minor above 15 years
- Indecent exposure to a minor under 15 years
- Possession of less than 2 pounds of marijuana
- Criminal damage that leads to between $250 and $2,000 in losses, and
- Theft of property valued between $1,000 and $2,000
Differentiating Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony According to Arizona Law
As a general principle, felonies are more severe than misdemeanors. Thus, time behind bars is significantly higher for felony convictions than for misdemeanor convictions. The time behind bars is indicative of the severity of the crime.
Misdemeanor sentences are served out in jails and not prisons. Felony offenders serve prison sentences upon conviction. This does not mean that you should take misdemeanor charges lightly. On the contrary, any criminal charge, a crime, a misdemeanor, or a felony, is consequential. Both affect the social and economic aspects of your life.
As is the case for felonies, misdemeanors also fall into various categories based on the severity of the charges as per Arizona law ARS 13-707. You can either be charged with a Class 1, 2, or 3 misdemeanor.
Class 1 misdemeanors, the most severe misdemeanor offenses, are punishable by fines of up to $2,500 and a jail time not exceeding six months. Class 2 misdemeanor offenders risk facing fines of up to $750 and four months in jail. Finally, Class 3 misdemeanor offenders are punished by the least severe penalties, including a fine of no more than $500 and a jail sentence not exceeding 30 days.
Additionally, felonies in Arizona mainly involve cases where violence, non-consensual sex, or death was the primary element.
Find a Phoenix Criminal Attorney Near Me
If you or a loved one faces criminal charges, get in touch with the team at Phoenix Criminal Attorney. Our years of experience in criminal defense is what you need to secure your release or have your charges reduced. Call us today at 602-551-8092 for a free consult.