In Arizona, as in most states, felonies are crimes that carry potential sentences of a year or more in state prison. (Misdemeanors in Arizona are generally punishable by up to six months in local or county jail.) For purposes of sentencing, Arizona groups felonies into six classes, with Class 1 as the most serious and Class 6 as the least serious. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-601, 13-602.)
However, the class of felony isn't the only thing that determines the sentence you'll receive if you're convicted. Other factors could increase or reduce your sentence, including your criminal history and the circumstances surrounding the crime. Read on for details.
Arizona uses determinate sentencing for felonies. That means that when you're sentenced to prison (other than for life), the sentence will be for a definite or fixed amount of time, within the range allowed by Arizona law. Each class of felony has a maximum and minimum sentence, as well as a “presumptive” sentence somewhere within that range. (The rules are different for Class 1 felonies, as discussed below.)
When deciding on a sentence, the judge will start with the presumptive sentence. If there is an aggravating or mitigating circumstance, the judge may then increase or reduce the presumptive sentence within the legal limits. Mitigating circumstances include the fact that your participation in the crime was minor or that you were under unusual duress at the time. Aggravating circumstances could include:
If there are at least two aggravating or mitigating circumstances involved in a case, the judge may impose a sentence that's shorter or longer than the standard range. The law sets limits on these “mitigated” or “aggravated” sentences for each felony class.
Arizona does allow a procedure for requesting a sentence that's lower than what the law generally allows. If a judge believes that the legally required sentence is excessive under the particular circumstances of your case, you may be allowed to petition for commutation of your sentence within 90 days after you've started serving your prison term. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-603, 13-701, 13-702 (2020).)
Arizona also requires stiffer sentences, with different ranges of allowed prison terms, for repeat offenders, dangerous or violent felonies, and certain other types of crimes. (More on that below.)
First- and second-degree murder are the only Class 1 felonies in Arizona. First degree murder is punishable by life in prison or death. (There are special requirements for the criminal proceedings if prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.)
Second-degree murder is generally punishable by 10 to 25 years in prison (with a presumptive sentence of 16 years). The sentence range is 15 to 29 years when the defendant has had certain types of previous convictions. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-710, 13-1104, 13-1105 (2020).)
The standard sentence range for a Class 2 felony is four to 10 years in prison, with a presumptive sentence of five years. With two or more mitigating or aggravating circumstances, the range is a minimum of three years and a maximum of 12 years and six months.
Class 2 felonies in Arizona include manslaughter, sex trafficking, armed robbery, and manufacturing methamphetamine. Sexual assault is also a Class 2 felony, but it has its own specific sentencing range: from five years and three months to 14 years for a first offense, with a presumptive sentence of seven years; the sentence ranges are longer with previous convictions for the same crime. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-702, 13-1103, 13-1307, 13-1406, 13-1904, 13-3407 (2020).)
The standard sentence range for a Class 3 felony is two-and-a-half years to seven years, with a presumptive sentence of three-and-a-half years. The mitigated sentence is two years, while the aggravated sentence is eight years and nine months.
In Arizona, Class 4 felonies are generally punishable by one-and-a-half to three years in prison, with a presumptive sentence of two-and-a-half years. The mitigated sentence is one year, while the aggravated sentence is three years and nine months.
Class 4 felonies include theft of property worth between $3,000 and $4,000, possession of a device for scanning credit cards (in order to defraud the cardholder or merchant), and aggravated assault involving strangulation. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-702, 13-1204, 13-1802, 13-2110 (2020).)
A person convicted of a Class 5 felony in Arizona faces a presumptive term of one-and-a-half years, with a minimum term of nine months and a maximum of two years. The mitigated term is six months, and the aggravated term is two-and-a-half years.
Class 5 felonies include aggravated domestic violence, credit card theft, and stalking that causes emotional distress or fear of injury or property damage. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-702, 13-2102, 13-2923, 13-3601 (2020).)
The standard sentence for a Class 6 felony is six to 18 months, with a presumptive sentence of one year. The aggravated term is two years in prison, while the mitigated term is four months.
However, if you've been convicted of a Class 6 felony that didn't involve a dangerous weapon or serious injury, and the judge believes that a felony sentence would be unduly harsh under the circumstances, the judge may instead enter a judgment for a Class 1 misdemeanor conviction or put you on probation and hold off on designating the crime as a felony or misdemeanor until you've completed probation. For these crimes that may be punished as either a felony or misdemeanor (sometimes called “wobblers”), the prosecutor may choose to charge the crime as a misdemeanor.
Examples of Class 6 felonies in Arizona include:
(Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-604, 13-702, 13-1802, 13-2804, 13-3405, 13-3415 (2020).)
Arizona law spells out longer sentence ranges within each class of felony when:
(To see the details on the sentence ranges under these circumstances, you can search for the statutes in the Arizona Criminal Code; Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-703, 13-704, 13-705, 13-706 (2020).)
In addition, several individual felonies step up in class (and therefore come with longer sentences) if you had one or more previous convictions for the same crime.
When you've been convicted of a felony in Arizona, the judge may order you to pay a fine of up to $150,000 in addition to serving time in prison—or instead of prison for a Class 5 or 6 felony. Judges may also impose additional fines for drug crimes.
Arizona also imposes various surcharges on criminal fines, which together increase the fine by a total of 78%. However, a judge may reduce the amount of the fine and surcharges if you can show that paying the full amount would be a financial hardship for you or your immediate family. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 12-116.01, 12-116.02, 13-603, 13-801, 13-821, 13-825, 16-954 (2020).)
Finally, any defendants convicted of crimes face extra charges known as "assessments" in Arizona. These assessments are relatively small when they apply to all crimes (ranging from $2 to $20), but the ones that apply to specific crimes range from $50 for crimes like stalking to $500 for sexual assault or dangerous crimes against children. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 12-114.01, 12-116.05, 12-116.06, 12-116.07, 12-116.08, 12-116.09, 12-116.10, (2020).)
Unless a law makes you ineligible for probation (usually because of previous convictions or the nature of the crime), the judge may suspend the prison sentence for a felony and put you on probation. However, if you've been convicted of personal possession of an illegal drug (other than methamphetamine) or drug paraphernalia, the judge must suspend your sentence and place you on probation unless you've also been convicted of a violent crime, have three previous drug convictions, or have refused treatment or probation.
While you're on probation, the judge may require you to spend certain periods of time in county jail. In Arizona, the probation conditions must include payment of a monthly fee. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-603, 13-901, 13-901.01(2020).)
A felony conviction can have serious, long-term consequences. Aside from the actual prison sentence, having a felony on your record could make it difficult to get a job or housing, will make it illegal to possess a gun, and will subject you to stiffer penalties if you commit another felony. If you're facing felony charges, you should speak with an Arizona criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can help you navigate the criminal justice system, negotiate a favorable plea bargain if that's appropriate, and obtain the best possible outcome in your case.