In the past couple of months, I have been inundated with people wondering why the Arizona laws are so harsh. The short answer is that our legislature has acted upon public opinion. And, politicians do not win elections standing on their soapbox saying they will be soft on crime. The end result is that penalties have become progressively more punitive.
A criminal case may be either a misdemeanor or a felony. Although some cases are called “criminal traffic,” (think DUI) those are also misdemeanors. So, in response to those individuals requesting “what will happen” for when charged with shoplifting, possession of drugs, domestic violence, or any other criminal case, you need to know the following information.
Misdemeanors fall into 3 classes. A misdemeanor can result in jail, but not prison. Felonies fall into 6 classes. Class One Felonies are homicide related. Class 6 felonies are the lowest level felony. If permitted by the court, a class 6 felony may be reduced to a misdemeanor after completing probation successfully. For a felony, the court has the option of sending you to prison or ordering you to serve a term of probation. Probation does not include prison. Rather, if sentenced to probation, you could receive a jail term. If a jail term is ordered for a felony, you could receive up to one year in jail as a condition of probation. If the matter is a misdemeanor, the maximum jail term is six months. One benefit of receiving a jail term is that you are likely able to go to work for up to 12 hours a day for either a 5 or 6 day work week. Depending on the sentencing court, the work/jail situation may be monitored by probation. And, again depending on the court, your employment may be verified before you are allowed work.
For many offenses, prosecutors may permit you to complete a program; usually involving some form of counseling that will allow you to earn a dismissal of the charges. Most often, this resolution is offered for first time shoplifting, drug possession and crimes of domestic violence. There is no guarantee that you will be offered this resolution. And, even if offered in some courts, it may not be offered in other courts.
Many years ago, diversion was offered either prior to a complaint being filed or was entered and the case was immediately dismissed. The case would be re-filed if you failed the program. The problem is THAT IS NO LONGER THE CASE. Now, you are normally required to enter a plea agreement. That requires both a written admission of guilt and subsequent statement of guilt to the court. The terms of the agreement indicate that your case will be dismissed if you successfully complete the program. But, if you fail to complete the program, the plea agreement clearly spells out your sentence. If granted entry into the diversion process, no conviction is entered at that time. But, the admission that permits you to enter the program can serve as the basis to prohibit you from owning or possessing a gun, can result deportation, and can result in the loss of your professional license (medical professionals, realtors, pilots, teachers, and those in the banking industry need to beware!).
Some crimes in Arizona have special sentencing provisions. To discuss a few:
1. First offense, simple drug possession: You can’t be ordered to serve a jail or prison term. Probation is mandated and no initial incarceration is permitted. If you violate your probation, prison is then possible.
2. Prostitution: Some courts do have a diversion program for a first offense by johns. But if convicted, there is a minimum mandatory 15-day jail term. If you have prior offenses, the mandatory jail term can jump substantially.
3. DUI at any level requires mandatory incarceration. At a minimum, you are facing at least one day. Depending on your criminal history and the results of any alcohol test, higher minimum jail terms or prison may be required.
4. Driving on a Suspended License: In terms of the criminal court, you may be looking at minimum jail terms in addition to of any prior sanction. In addition to the criminal penalties, MVD will double any prior suspension/revocation.
If you have been charged with a criminal offense, please keep in mind that there is a substantial difference between going to church and asking for forgiveness and being punished under Arizona’s extremely harsh penalties. And, given the number of regulations we all live with, you really need to make sure that any resolution of your criminal matter also protects any possible collateral consequence that you may face. Experienced counsel is your best insurance in defending yourself from the harsh penalties.
If you have concerns about your criminal record or wish to speak to counsel in Arizona and need a Phoenix criminal defense attorney, do not hesitate to contact Howard Snader. Mr. Snader is a Board Certified Criminal Law Specialist. If you or anyone you know has been accused of any felony or misdemeanor, please call him or email him at [email protected].