Criminal Law Article


Criminal Sentencing Guidelines


Criminal Law vs. Civil Law


A civil case is a case that results from a private dispute between two or more parties – usually when one party has suffered an injury and therefore initiates a lawsuit in order to obtain compensation from the party caused that injury – whereas a criminal case is a case that results from an act by one party that is considered to be harmful to the community as a whole. In civil court, the “plaintiff” sues a “defendant,” whereas in criminal court, the State (represented by a “prosecutor”) charges and tries the defendant. A defendant who loses a civil case may be required to pay the plaintiff money and/or to undertake or not undertake a specific act related to the lawsuit, whereas a defendant who loses a criminal case may be required not only to pay a fine but also to spend months or years or life in prison (or potentially even face death if they are convicted of a crime such as First Degree Murder).

Although many criminal offenses – such as counterfeiting, credit card fraud, identity theft, tax evasion, racketeering, bank robbery, crimes against federal officers, and crimes committed on Indian reservations – are prosecuted under Federal law, the majority of criminal offenses are prosecuted under the Criminal Code of each individual state.

The Arizona Criminal Code – which is also known as Title 13 of the Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) – may be viewed online at http://www.azleg.gov/arsDetail/?title=13. The general purposes of the Arizona Criminal Code are described (at A.R.S. § 13-101) as follows:
1. To prohibit conduct that unjustifiably and inexcusably causes or threatens substantial harm to individual or public interests;
2. To give fair warning of the nature of the conduct that is prohibited and of the sentences that are authorized when a person is convicted of such conduct;
3. To define the act or omission and the accompanying mental state which constitute each offense and limit the condemnation of conduct as criminal when it does not fall within the purposes set forth;
4. To differentiate on reasonable grounds between serious and minor offenses and to prescribe proportionate penalties for each;
5. To ensure the public safety by preventing the commission of offenses through the deterrent influence of the sentences authorized;
6. To impose just and deserved punishment on those whose conduct threatens the public peace; and
7. To promote truth and accountability in sentencing.

Criminal Sentencing Guidelines

Criminal sentencing guidelines – which exist both at the Federal and State levels – are the rules that establish a uniform (consistent) criminal sentencing policy for certain offenses. They are intended to help judges in criminal cases apply punishment evenly and thus fairly and in keeping with government policy to different individuals in different locations who are convicted of the very same crimes.

The Criminal Code Sentencing Provisions that apply to State courts here in Arizona are published each year. The 2017-18 version is available here: http://www.azcourts.gov/Portals/0/CriminalSentencingCt/2017Sentencing.pdf. A sample is reprinted below for reference purposes only. For accurate and detailed information, please consult the actual document through the electronic link above as well as those sections of the Arizona Criminal Code to which the document refers.

If you have been charged with a criminal offense, you are advised to contact a criminal defense attorney. If you cannot afford a criminal defense attorney, the Federal government (if Federal law applies) or the Arizona county by which you have been charged (if State law applies) will provide an attorney (known as a “public defender”) for you. To learn more about “public defenders” at the State level, please visit the following link: https://addpc.az.gov/sites/default/files/media/Public%20Defender%20Brief_Sept%202016_1.pdf.

Non-Dangerous Felony Offenses

Mitigating factors (which may result in a sentence below the minimum) and aggravating factors (which may result in a sentence above the maximum) are considered when a defendant is convicted of a non-dangerous felony. (A.R.S. 13-701)

Mitigating factors include the defendant’s age; the defendant’s capacity to appreciate that what the defendant did was wrong; the defendant being under duress when the crime was committed; and the defendant’s role in committing the crime (the smaller, the better).

Aggravating factors include the defendant’s infliction of or threat to inflict serious physical injury on another while committing the crime; the defendant’s use of or threat to use a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument while committing the crime; the defendant’s use of an accomplice; and the manner (if it was especially heinous, cruel, or depraved) in which the defendant committed the crime.

Non-Dangerous Offenses – First Offense (A.R.S. § 13-702)

Class of Felony     Mitigated     Minimum     Presumptive     Maximum     Aggravated
    2*                           3 years        4 years         5 years             10 years       12.5 years
    3*                           2 years        2.5 years      3.5 years          7 years          8.75 years
    4*                           1 year          1.5 years       2.5 years         3 years          3.75 years
    5*                          .5 years        .75 years      1.5 years          2 years          2.5 years
    6*                         .33 years       .5 years        1 year               1.5 years       2 years
*probation eligible


Non-Dangerous Offenses – Second Offense (One Previous Conviction) (A.R.S. § 13-703)


Class of Felony     Mitigated     Minimum     Presumptive     Maximum     Aggravated
    2                             3 years        4 years         5 years             10 years        12.5 years
    3                             2 years        2.5 years      3.5 years          7 years          8.75 years
    4                             1 year         1.5 years       2.5 years          3 years          3.75 years
    5                            .5 years       .75 years      1.5 years           2 years          2.5 years
    6                           .25 years      .5 years         1 year               1.5 years        2 years


Non-Dangerous Offenses – Third Offense (Two Previous Convictions) (A.R.S. § 13-703)


Class of Felony     Mitigated     Minimum     Presumptive     Maximum     Aggravated
    2                            4.5 years       6 years         9.25 years       18.5 years     23 years
    3                            3.25 years    4.5 years      6.5 years         13 years         16.25 years
    4                            2.25 years    3 years         4.5 years          6 years           7.5 years
    5                            1 year            1.5 years     2.25 years        3 years           3.75 years
    6                           .75 years       1 year           1.75 years        2.25 years     2.75 years


Non-Dangerous Offenses – Fourth Offense (Three Previous Convictions) (A.R.S. § 13-703)


Class of Felony     Mitigated       Minimum     Presumptive     Maximum     Aggravated
    2                           10.5 years     14 years      15.75 years       28 years        35 years
    3                            7.5 years      10 years       11.25 years       20 years        25 years
    4                            6 years          8 years         10 years           12 years        15 years
    5                            3 years          4 years          5 years             6 years          7.5 years
    6                            2.25 years    3 years          3.75 years       4.5 years       5.75 years


Dangerous Felony Offenses

A dangerous offense is any offense “involving the discharge, use or threatening exhibition of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument or the intentional or knowing infliction of serious physical injury on another person.” (A.R.S. § 13-105)

Mitigating and aggravating factors are not considered when a defendant is convicted of a dangerous offense.

The only Class 1 felonies in Arizona are First Degree Murder – which is punishable by life in prison or death – and Second Degree Murder – for which the sentence ranges from 16 years to life in prison.

Dangerous Offenses – First Offense (A.R.S. § 13-704)

Class of Felony     Minimum     Presumptive     Maximum
    2                               7 years       10.5 years          21 years
    3                               5 years        7.5 years           15 years
    4                               4 years        6 years               8 years
    5                               2 years        3 years               4 years
    6                            1.5 years       2.25 years          3 years


Dangerous Offenses – One Prior Conviction (A.R.S. § 13-704)


Class of Felony     Minimum     Presumptive     Maximum
    2                             14 years     15.75 years     28 years
    3                             10 years     11.25 years     20 years
    4                              8 years      10 years          12 years
    5                              4 years       5 years            6 years
    6                              3 years       3.75 years      4.5 years


Dangerous Offenses – Two Prior Convictions (A.R.S. § 13-704)


Class of Felony     Minimum     Presumptive     Maximum
    2                             21 years        28 years          35 years
    3                            15 years         20 years          25 years
    4                            12 years         14 years          16 years
    5                             6 years           7 years             8 years
    6                             4.5 years        5.25 years       6 years


Dangerous Offenses – Second (Repetitive*) Offense (A.R.S. § 13-704)
*when a defendant is convicted as a result of a single trial of multiple crimes that happened at different times

Class of Felony     Minimum     Maximum     Increased Maximum
    2                           10.5 years     21 years         26.25 years
    3                            7.5 years      15 years         18.75 years
    4                            6 years          8 years           10 years
    5                            3 years          4 years            5 years
    6                            2.25 years    3 years            3.75 years


Dangerous Offenses – Third & Subsequent (Repetitive) Offense (A.R.S. § 13-704)

Class of Felony     Minimum              Maximum         Increased Maximum
    2                           15.75 years           28 years            35 years
    3                           11.25 years           20 years            25 years
    4                           10 years                12 years            15 years
    5                            5 years                  6 years              7.5 years
    6                            3.75 years            4.5 years           5.6 years


Dangerous Offenses Against Children


Dangerous Offenses Against Children – First Offense (A.R.S. § 13-705)


Subsection          Minimum                   Presumptive             Maximum
    A                         Life in Prison
    B                        13 years to Life        20 years to Life         27 years to Life
    C                        13 years                    20 years                     27 years
    D                        10 years                   17 years                      24 years
    E*                        5 years                    10 years                      15 years
    F*                        2.5 years                  5 years                       7.5 years
*probation eligible


Dangerous Offenses Against Children – One Prior Conviction (A.R.S. § 13-705)


Subsection         Minimum                     Presumptive                   Maximum
    A                        Life in Prison
    B                       13 years to Life             20 years to Life               27 years to Life
    C                       23 years                        30 years                           37 years
    D                       21 years                        28 years                           35 years
    E                        8 years                          15 years                           22 years
    F                        8 years                          15 years                           22 years


Dangerous Offenses Against Children – Two Prior Convictions (A.R.S. § 13-705)


Subsection        Minimum                      Presumptive                    Maximum
    A                       Life in Prison
    B                      13 years to Life            20 years to Life               27 years to Life
    C                      Life in Prison   
    D                      Life in Prison   
    E                       N/A   
    F                       N/A

MISDEMEANORS (A.R.S. § 13-707; A.R.S. § 13-802)

Class of Misdemeanor    Max. Jail Time     Max. Fine (Person)     Max. Fine (Enterprise)
    1                                         6 months                 $2,500                        $20,000
    2                                         4 months                 $750                           $10,000
    3                                         30 days                    $500                           $2,000
    Petty Offense                      No jail                    $300                           $1,000


Drug Offenses


Drug                                                    Threshold Amount* (A.R.S. § 13-3401)

*For any drug not listed here, or any combination of drugs not listed here, the threshold is an amount with a value of at least $1,000.

Amphetamine &
Methamphetamine                          9 grams (including in liquid suspension)
Cocaine                                             9 grams (powder form) – 750 milligrams (rock form)
LSD                                                   1/2 milliliter (liquid form) — 50 dosage units (blotter form)
Marijuana                                          2 pounds
PCP                                                   4 grams or 50 milliliters


Drug Offenses (Below Threshold Amount) – Second Offense (A.R.S. § 13-3419)


Class of Felony     Mitigated        Minimum        Presumptive     Maximum        Aggravated
    2*                           3 years           4 years            5 years              10 years          12.5 years
    3*                          1.8 years         2.5 years        3.5 years            7 years            8.7 years
    4*                          1.1 years        1.5 years 

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