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Posted on July 6, 2021 in Arizona Law

Arizona’s Mandatory Minimum Sentences: An Overview

Arizona has mandatory minimum sentences that must be imposed for certain crimes. A judge must follow the sentencing guidelines when ordering punishments for criminal convictions.

A judge has some discretion with the sentencing guidelines. However, there are minimum sentences that the judge must impose—even if the judge believes the punishment might be too harsh for the crime.

What Are the Arizona Minimum Mandatory Sentences?

The Criminal Code Sentencing Chart provides Arizona judges with a presumptive prison term for a given crime.

The presumptive prison sentence may be increased if the prosecution proves that aggravating circumstances existed as part of the criminal activity. Likewise, the presumptive prison sentence may be decreased if the defense proves that mitigating factors justify a downward adjustment.

When Did Arizona Institute Mandatory Sentences?

The mandatory sentencing laws were passed in 1978 by the Arizona Legislature. These laws apply to all individuals who are guilty of a felony offense and have a prior felony conviction. Therefore, if you have a prior felony conviction, you face mandatory prison sentences for future felony convictions.

Minimum Sentences for Dangerous Crimes

The laws also apply to all individuals who are guilty of certain dangerous crimes, even if they are first-time felons. Many crimes qualify as a “dangerous crime” for mandatory sentencing.

For example, committing crimes with a deadly weapon results in mandatory sentencing, even if you have no prior criminal history. A dangerous weapon could include knives, firearms, an automobile, a baseball bat, or any other item that could be used as a weapon.

Dangerous crimes may include burglary, kidnapping, assault, and robbery.

Mandatory Sentencing For Dangerous Crimes Against Children and Sex Crimes

Mandatory sentences for these types of crimes can be severe. For example, a rape or sexual assault conviction could result in a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison. The presumptive prison sentence for rape is seven years with a maximum of 14 years.

In most cases, the person must serve the entire sentence without the possibility of parole.

Dangerous crimes against children also carry incredibly harsh prison sentences. A conviction of child molestation, which includes indirect touching and over the clothing touching of genitalia, requires a minimum prison term of ten years. The presumptive term is 17 years with a maximum of 24 years. Again, there is no possibility of parole.

The minimum mandatory sentence for sexual conduct involving a minor increases substantially when there is a sexual act or penetration. A person could serve up to 27 years without parole.

Minimum Mandatory Sentencing Can Be Confusing

The above overview is just a simple explanation of some of the issues related to mandatory sentencing. You must determine which felony level applies to your charges. Then you must determine the sentencing ranges within the crimes.

Each crime has five sentencing categories:

  • Mitigated Range (the loosest possible sentence based on mitigating circumstances)
  • Minimum Range
  • Presumptive Range (the default sentence for a specific crime, unless the judge finds at least one mitigating or aggravating circumstance)
  • Maximum Range
  • Aggravating Range (the most severe sentence based on aggravating circumstances)

The ranges are somewhat confusing because a judge can decrease the presumptive sentence to the minimum sentence. However, the judge may lower the prison term further if there is a mitigating circumstance.

Trying to navigate the sentencing guidelines without help can be frustrating. It could also lead to a longer prison sentence than necessary if you are not aware of the mitigating factors that could decrease your time in prison.

Groups Call for Sentencing Reform in Arizona

Many groups call for reforming sentencing policies in Arizona. Arizona has the fifth highest incarceration level in the United States., including non-violent drug offenders who could benefit from substance abuse treatment. The number of incarcerated individuals increased by 60 percent in Arizona from 2000 to 2017.

If you are charged with a crime, you need experienced legal counsel to represent you in criminal court. You could have a high risk of facing minimum mandatory prison sentences.

The only way to avoid a lengthy prison sentence is to fight the criminal charges aggressively with the help of a criminal defense attorney. In some cases, a felony defense lawyer may be able to present mitigating circumstances to lower the prison sentence if the state’s evidence against you is overwhelming.

Do not trust a prosecutor’s word that you will receive a light sentence or that they will work with you to negotiate a fair plea deal. It is in your best interest to obtain your information from a criminal defense lawyer who has your best interest as the only priority.

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