How Misdemeanors Work in AZ

How do misdemeanors work in Arizona?

In Arizona misdemeanors offenses are lesser offenses than felonies. They include certain types of assault, disorderly conduct, criminal damage, criminal trespass, criminal nuisance, shoplift, theft, littering, domestic violence offenses, dog at large, animal cruelty, interfering with judicial proceedings, possession of drug paraphernalia, open container of alcohol in the vehicle, minor in possession of alcohol, public urination, contracting without a license, and various traffic infractions (such as DUI, driving on a suspended license, criminal speeding, aggressive driving, reckless driving, etc.) among others. Arizona state law has its own set of misdemeanor offenses that apply within the State. Additionally, many cities and towns have their own codes of misdemeanors that apply within their individual jurisdictions. There are three class designations of misdemeanors that carry a range of possible penalties. Some specific offenses carry mandatory minimum penalties and tie a judge’s hand on sentencing.

A class 1 misdemeanor is the most serious and carries the highest range of penalties. Such penalties could include up to 6 months in jail and three years of probation (up to 5 months probation can be imposed in DUI cases). A fine can be imposed up to $2500 plus surcharges, which can almost double the cost. Class 1 misdemeanors include DUI, assault, shoplift, theft, disorderly conduct, animal cruelty, contracting without a license, and driving on a suspended license among many others.

A class 2 misdemeanor could include a penalty of up to 4 months in jail. Probation of up to 2 years and a fine of up to $750 plus surcharges can be imposed as well. Class 2 misdemeanors include reckless driving, a certain type of assault, criminal trespassing in the second degree and criminal damage among others.

Class 3 misdemeanors are the least severe but are punished more severely than petty offenses. They can still carry up to 30 days in jail, up to 1 year of probation, and up to $500 in fines plus surcharges. Class 3 misdemeanor offenses in Arizona include a specific form of non-injury assault, criminal trespass in the third degree and criminal speeding among others.

Misdemeanor cases are ordinarily investigated by police agencies. They may also be investigated by other agencies such as the Arizona Department of Transportation or the Arizona Registrar of Contractors. Once investigations conclude the investigating agent may chose to directly cite the individual and file the case in a city, town, or justice court. In some cases the investigator may arrest a suspect. In other cases an investigator may submit a report to a local prosecuting agency to review the case for possible charging. 

Once cases are filed the first court hearing will be set which will consist of an initial appearance or arraignment. At the first hearing release conditions may be determined by a judge. Pre-trial conferences are held after the initial hearing. At these conferences negotiations will ordinarily occur between the State and the Defense. Other hearings such as evidentiary hearings and oral arguments may be held during the pre-trial stage to determine factual or legal issues in the case. Some cases are settled or dismissed during the pre-trial stages. 

In misdemeanor cases attorneys often appear on behalf of their client, saving their client the expense of missing work. If a legal or factual determination needs to be made by a judge an evidentiary hearing or oral argument may be set. If a resolution is successfully negotiated a change of plea hearing may be set. If a resolution is not reached and the case is not resolved in some other manner by the court a trial will be set. At a trial both sides will present evidence and arguments before a jury or judge. After close of all evidence and arguments a jury or judge will make a determination in the case. If a guilty finding is made sentencing will be determined by a judge and the range of penalty will vary as described above depending on the type of misdemeanor.

Experienced misdemeanor attorneys in Arizona understand how each misdemeanor court and prosecutor agency works and how to secure the best results. Misdemeanor cases in Arizona may resolve fairly quickly or can last 1-2 years or more. On average a misdemeanor case takes 3 to 6 months to resolve. During the pre-trial stage an experienced misdemeanor attorney will thoroughly investigate the allegations and review the evidence. This stage could include interviewing witnesses, analyzing audio or video evidence, employing certain experts to review specific evidence, and/or bringing in private investigators among other tasks. Many cases involve legal issues that require extensive research and analysis of legal authority, including statutory and case law.

During the pre-trial stage extensive negotiations will occur between the State and the Defense. Understanding how certain judges, courts, or prosecutors operate as well as maintaining good relationships with these players is important for obtaining successful resolutions. Many favorable resolutions can be achieved on certain cases such as deferred prosecution or diversion. Such agreements will result in full dismissals, often saving a person’s record. Some resolutions may significantly reduce the offense and penalties. There is a wide array of possible resolutions so it is imperative to hire an experienced misdemeanor attorney that understands how to challenge misdemeanor cases and how to work with certain courts and prosecutors.

If you or a loved one is under investigation or has been charged with a misdemeanor offense it is crucial to contact an attorney immediately. Do not speak with an investigator or anyone about your case without representation. In many cases you may avoid criminal charges if counsel is able to intervene immediately. 

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