There are many types of offenses in Arizona grouped by class. Some are deemed domestic violence crimes or dangerous offenses against minors. Most serious crimes in Arizona state are termed dangerous offenses. Prosecutors treat these crimes particularly severely since they involve serious bodily injury or deadly weapons.
If accused of a dangerous crime, you have a challenging fight coming. You have to fight to win your case because you can face harsher consequences, including hefty fines and a lengthy prison term if you lose and are pronounced guilty. If you are under investigation for or have been charged with a dangerous crime, call us at Phoenix Criminal Attorney to defend your rights. We use insights obtained from our experience to build a compelling defense strategy for our clients.
What Are Dangerous Crimes?
If the prosecution can press dangerous crime charges against you, they will not hesitate. Dangerous crimes are described under Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS) 13-105(13) as offenses that involve:
- The discharge, threatening exhibition, or use of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument
- The intentional/knowing cause of severe bodily injury upon someone else.
A deadly weapon refers to anything designed to be lethal, including a pellet gun or any gun, whether unloaded or loaded, including any gadget that shoots a projectile using an explosion, except for a permanently inoperable gun. Although, whether a specific device is considered a deadly weapon is often a matter for the trier of fact or jury to decide.
Dangerous instruments include anything readily capable of inflicting death or severe bodily injury under the circumstances in which they are being used/threatened to be used. These instruments include fire, a knife, a pocket knife, and an automobile, but only for manslaughter or aggravated assault, not for DUI crimes. Again, whether or not a given instrument qualifies to be considered dangerous is usually a matter decided by the jury.
Serious physical/bodily injuries are those that generate a reasonable risk of demise, cause serious, permanent disfigurement, cause protracted impairment or loss of the function of any limb or body organ, or severely impair the victim’s health. Examples of serious physical injury are:
- A dislocated or broken hip socket and thigh bone, necessitating extensive surgery
- A fractured orbital floor of the eye, leading to double vision plus infection risk
- An open nasal fracture that changes the appearance of the victim’s nose and leaves them with continuous bleeding
Note that the injury must be physical and not emotional. Severe injuries common in cases of sexual assault, such as breaking the hymen of the victim, are usually not deemed serious bodily injuries.
If an offense meets either of the above requirements, it is considered a dangerous crime, meaning the accused will be subject to a lengthy possible prison term.
Some crimes are dangerous in themselves, whereas others are not. For instance, murder in the first and second degree are both dangerous crimes in themselves since the victim in question will always sustain a severe bodily injury. On the other hand, burglary in the first degree is not a dangerous criminal offense in itself because, while it requires that the accused possess a dangerous instrument or deadly weapon during the commission of the offense, it does not need the accused to utilize/threaten a person with it.
If the crime is not dangerous in itself, for instance, sex trafficking or domestic violence, the prosecutor must prove its dangerous nature to the judge or jury beyond any reasonable doubt for the accused to be subject to consequences. This takes place during the sentencing hearing. It could also happen at the advanced trial stage. The prosecution cannot mention the dangerous nature of the crime during the trial stage, at which point the accused’s guilt is adjudicated.
If the offense was considered a dangerous crime, a conviction comes with an increased prison term. Having a defense lawyer to defend your interests and rights at this stage of the criminal process is critical.
Commonly Charges Dangerous Offenses
The following are a few of the most commonly charged dangerous crimes in Arizona:
- Aggravated assault— the crime of aggravated assault is usually considered dangerous. It is possibly the most commonly charged dangerous crime. This crime has multiple elements the prosecution must prove. Firstly, an assault has to occur. You commit an assault if you:
- Recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally cause any bodily injury to someone else, or
- Deliberately place someone else in reasonable fear of imminent bodily injury, or
- Knowingly touch someone else intending to provoke, insult, or injure them
Several factors make a simple assault aggravated. Common aggravated assault examples are:
- If you cause serious bodily injury to someone else
- If you use a dangerous instrument or deadly weapon
- If you commit assault when the victim is bound or otherwise physically restrained or when their capability to resist is significantly impaired.
- If you commit the assault using force which results in temporary but significant disfigurement, temporary yet considerable impairment, or loss of a body part or organ, or a fracture of a body part.
- If you are eighteen years older or above and commit the assault against a child below fifteen years old
- If you commit the assault after entering someone else's private home intending to commit the assault.
The most prevalent example of aggravated assault as a dangerous offense is shooting someone else. But you could also face charges of aggravated assault as a dangerous offense if you simply point a firearm at another person. Another instance of aggravated assault as a dangerous offense is hitting someone else with your vehicle.
- Kidnapping— the description of the Arizona crime of kidnapping surprises many people. When you talk of kidnapping, it does not necessarily imply you grabbed a person, tied them up, and then put them in the back of your vehicle (even though that, too, qualifies as kidnapping). Kidnapping means knowingly restraining someone else intending to commit a felony. If you have committed a felony and, in a way, restricted the victim's movement, the prosecution is likely to bring kidnapping charges too.
- Armed robbery— considered a dangerous crime, armed robbery is intentionally or knowingly threatening someone else using a deadly weapon to force them to surrender their property. The most prevalent armed robbery instances involve convenience stores or gas stations. Other examples include 'rips' whereby one drug trafficking organization or rival gang invades a home and steals money or drugs at gunpoint.
- Manslaughter— manslaughter refers to the reckless causing of someone else's demise. By this, it means there existed a significant risk of death, but you disregarded it. The most prevalent instance of a manslaughter crime is when an intoxicated motorist kills someone else. In this case, the district attorney will prosecute this manslaughter crime as a dangerous crime because, as we mentioned, the law considers a vehicle a dangerous instrument.
Other dangerous crimes include murder, sexual assault, dangerous offenses against minors, child prostitution, sexual conduct with a minor under fifteen years, first-degree burglary, and arson of a lived-in structure.
Defending Against Dangerous Crime Charges
Even though it is intimidating for the state to accuse you of committing a dangerous crime, you should not assume that you are automatically going to be convicted. You may be capable of casting reasonable doubt on one or several elements of the offense of which they are accusing you. There are substantive defense strategies you can argue based on the crime you are accused of committing. General legal defenses to dangerous crimes include:
Self-Defense or Defense of Another Person
If accused of a dangerous crime and the prosecution says you used a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument, you can raise the legal defense of self-defense. You can argue that you only used the weapon to defend yourself against an attack.
You Did Not Have a Weapon
You can only be convicted of a dangerous crime if you used or threatened to use a dangerous instrument or deadly weapon. This means it is a legal defense to argue that you did not use or threaten to use a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument.
Victims of most dangerous offenses are bound to misidentify a suspect, perhaps because the perpetrator was wearing a mask or disguise, or the victim is tense, scared, or caught off guard. Thus, you can always try to argue the defense that you were a victim of mistaken identity.
Unlawful Search or Seizure
Sometimes defendants are charged with a dangerous offense after the law enforcement officers obtain a weapon after a search and seizure. However, if the police searched or seized something without a valid search warrant or a legal exception for lacking a search warrant, the property seized can be struck off from the prosecution’s evidence. This could mean the judge would drop your case altogether or reduce your charges.
Poor Investigation and Evidence Quality
Poor quality investigation and evidence is a prevalent defense for dangerous crimes. Your lawyer will also assist you in determining whether an expert should be sought to question the reliability of the proof the prosecution has against you. Instances of the kinds of areas of investigation or evidence you can challenge include:
- Securing the crime scene— was the crime scene appropriately preserved or documented?
- Gathering of physical proof like a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument— did the police officers follow the proper procedures? Did they fail to secure important evidence?
- Did the law enforcement’s crime lab follow proper procedures and methods when testing evidence? Are the test results accurate and reliable?
- Eyewitnesses— are the prosecutor’s eyewitnesses reliable? Do they have any ulterior motives?
- Crime scene reconstruction— Did the prosecution’s expert use a faulty method in reconstructing how the offense occurred?
The insufficient proof defense is closely related to the defense of the poor quality of the investigation and evidence. With the help of your lawyer, you could raise this defense if you can prove the prosecution does not have enough evidence to sustain a conviction. It could be that they failed to prove the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Your lawyer could also poke holes in the proof the prosecution already has to cast a doubt in the jury or judge’s mind. This way, the judge could end up dismissing your case or reducing the charges.
You Have an Alibi
Submitting an alibi helps to prove that you are innocent. Here, you have to prove that there is no way you could have committed the offense in question. For instance, it could be you were somewhere else when the offense was committed and was even with someone else who can vouch for you. If you were alone, you could still prove your alibi by presenting attendance sheets or receipts.
You Were Under Duress
Duress is an affirmative defense to being charged with an offense. It can be challenging for your lawyer to establish whether duress applies and whether it is a good defense considering the circumstances of the case. Judges consider whether any reasonable individual under the same circumstances would believe they needed to perform an act because of the threat of an immediate application of force that could lead to a severe injury, which a reasonable individual under the same circumstances would not have resisted.
Other defenses include:
- Violations of your rights to a speedy trial
- Violations of your Miranda rights
- Mistake of fact
- No probable cause for arrest
- No intention to commit the crime (where intent is required)
- No conflicting witness or eyewitness statements
- No knowledge of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument used or possessed
- Violations in police protocol and procedure
- Other violations of constitutional rights
The Penalties and Sentencing for Dangerous Offenses
If an offense is considered dangerous, it is punished under ARS section 13-704, and the sentencing scheme is different from other crimes. The prison term is more severe and more prolonged than if the crime was not considered dangerous.
For a dangerous class 2 felony crime, the prison sentence will be seven to twenty-one years and a presumptive sentence of ten and a half years. If it is a dangerous class 3 felony crime, the sentence will be five to fifteen years in prison and a presumptive sentence of seven and a half years.
If it is a dangerous class 4 felony offense, the term will be four to eight years in prison and a presumptive sentence of six years. If it is a dangerous class 5 felony crime, the sentence will be two to four years in prison and a presumptive sentence of three years. And if it is a dangerous class 6 felony, the term will be one and a half to three years in prison with a presumptive sentence of two and a quarter years.
Unlike non-dangerous crimes, aggravated and mitigating factors are not considered when imposing a dangerous crime sentence.
If convicted of a class 2 felony armed robbery offense, you will be subject to seven to twenty-one years in prison and a maximum of a hundred and fifty thousand dollars in fines. Manslaughter also carries a prison sentence of seven to twenty-one years. Assault with a deadly weapon is a dangerous class 3 felony offense. If convicted, you could be subject to a prison sentence of five to fifteen years and a maximum fine of a hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
The judge will order a different, harsher sentence if found guilty of any dangerous crime and have a historical past felony conviction that involves a dangerous crime. If you have two or several historical past felony convictions that involve dangerous crimes, the judge imposes even a harsher sentence. For instance, if found guilty of a dangerous class 2 felony and have one historical past felony conviction that is a class 3, 2, or 1 felony, you may face a prison sentence of up to twenty-eight years. If you are found guilty of a dangerous class 2 felony and have more than one historical past felony conviction that is a class 3, 2, or 1 felony, you may face up to thirty-five years in prison.
Note that these prison sentences are mandatory. This means the court cannot grant you probation, parole, a suspended sentence, or any other form of early release from confinement, even if it wanted to. Additionally, your prison sentence will be enhanced if:
- You are a repeat offender for a subsequent crime, or
- It was not your first crime or first felony crime
Misdemeanors are not subject to these increased prison terms for being dangerous offenses. The enhancement will only apply to felonies since they are more severe offenses. A skilled criminal defense attorney will explain the possible range of sentences you may be subject to if found guilty.
Find an Experienced Dangerous Crimes Attorney Near Me
As we have seen, prosecutors treat dangerous crimes quite seriously. You could be subject to a lengthy period in prison and a hefty fine if convicted of one. If you are under investigation, arrested, or already charged with a dangerous offense, you want to consult a skilled and knowledgeable attorney. Our lawyers at Phoenix Criminal Attorney have decades of experience representing clients accused of dangerous crimes in Phoenix and the surrounding cities. Call us at 602-551-8092, and we will figure out the best strategy to fight the charges against you.