For better or for worse, Arizona has some of the toughest sentencing laws on the books. As a general rule, individuals charged with committing felony offenses are facing either prison time or a term of probation as a consequence if they are found guilty. For those offenses that carry a mandatory prison term, often times the goal in a plea negotiation with the prosecutor is to avoid prison time and obtain a resolution which permits the defendant to serve a term of probation instead. If probation is granted, the court can revoke the defendant’s probation if it is proven by a preponderance of the evidence that any term of the probation was violated by the defendant. In those cases where the court revokes probation, ordinarily a prison term is imposed-the length of which depends on the underlying offense for which the person was placed on probation.
There are certain types of felony offenses in Arizona for which a prison term is mandatory, even if it is a first offense. For example, if a person is charged with a very serious violent offense such as homicide, the law requires a lengthy prison term even in the absence of a criminal history. Similarly, if the prosecution alleges that a gun or other deadly weapon was used in the commission of an offense, mandatory prison could also be implicated in the event a finding of guilt is made. Most offenses of involving sexual misconduct carry very serious prison terms. This is particularly the case when the alleged victim of this type of offense is a minor. Finally, another common situation where a person may find him or herself facing prison time would be if they have a prior felony conviction. If the prior felony was committed long ago, it may have less of an effect on the penalty for the subsequent offense but, in all likelihood, will still trigger a mandatory prison term.
Regardless of whether you intend to resolve your felony case with a trial or a negotiated plea agreement with the prosecution, it is critical to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side. Ultimately, the terms of any plea agreement will be the product of a negotiation between your lawyer and the prosecutor. Having an attorney with trial experience who is in a position to point out the weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case during plea negotiations can be a tremendous asset when trying to achieve a favorable non-trial resolution.