Arizona’s Mandatory Sentencing Scheme


The Arizona mandatory sentencing scheme provides for the Court what is known as a presumptive term in prison. That term is what is normally presumed to be the appropriate sentence; however, that sentence can be reduced by a demonstration of mitigating circumstances, or, in fact, increased by a prosecutor's showing of certain aggravating circumstances.

In 1978, the Legislature passed mandatory sentencing laws, which require mandatory prison for all persons found guilty of a felony offense if they had a prior felony conviction.
Second, Arizona's mandatory sentencing laws provide for mandatory prison for all persons, including first time felons, to be sentenced to prison if found guilty of certain "dangerous crimes". Contained within the definition of "dangerous crimes" are those crimes utilizing a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument, including guns, knives, automobiles and any instrument intended to be used as a weapon, either in its design or at the time it was used. These dangerous offenses are generally charged as Aggravated Assaults, Armed Robberies and Kidnappings.

Third, and perhaps the most egregious area of mandatory sentencing involves that of sex crimes and "dangerous crimes against children". The crime of sexual assault, commonly known as rape, carries a mandatory minimum of 5 years, a presumptive term of 7 years and a maximum of 14 years in prison. The term of imprisonment is commonly known as "flat time", which means that one must serve this sentence day for day with no early release. However, the most severe portion of the mandatory sentencing laws concerns "dangerous crimes against children". A person convicted of Child Molestation, which includes direct or in-direct touching of the genitalia (including over the clothing) is required to serve a flat time sentence with a minimum of 10 years, a presumptive term of 17 years, and a maximum of 24 years in prison with no early release. Sexual conduct with a minor, which requires some sexual act or "penetration", is required to serve a minimum of 13 years, a presumptive of 20 years, and a maximum of 27 flat years in prison with no early release.

This information is simply a general overview of the sentencing scheme and individual matters can actually become quite complex depending upon the facts of any particular alleged crime, or by the fact that the prosecutor's office could charge multiple crimes in the same indictment, which may impact the formulation of the sentencing results. The sentencing scheme in Arizona is far more complicated than the simple explanation you have read about here and one who is faced with being convicted of criminal offenses in Arizona needs an experienced, professional criminal defense attorney to traverse the challenges inherent in this system.

Additionally, the Federal sentencing system is very complicated. In 1984 the United States Congress passed the Federal Sentencing Act, which provided for a complicated set of formulas resulting in a sentencing guideline for the United States District Court when faced with a defendant who has either pled guilty or been found guilty at trial of Federal offenses. Simply stated, the Federal sentencing guidelines provide mathematical formulas for determining a category for each defendant. In turn, the category sets forth the range of months which the guidelines recommend. Certain factors permit additions or subtractions from the range of sentencing if they are factually present. Finally, there are reasons set forth in the sentencing code to permit a United States District Judge to depart from the sentencing guidelines, either downward or upward, when determining the sentence for a particular defendant.

If you have been charged with a felony that could subject you to the Arizona Mandatory Sentencing Laws, or Federal Sentencing Guidelines, your Criminal Defense Lawyer must have the experience it takes to challenge the State's or Federal Government's evidence against you.