As a criminal defense attorney, I get questions all the time about how sentencing works in Arizona. Most people are surprised by my answers. Here are the top five tips regarding sentencing in Arizona. Be advised that every court is different.

1) Who makes a plea agreement? Before you are sentenced, you have to be found guilty. You can plead guilty to the court, be found guilty after trial or you can enter into a plea agreement. The vast majority of criminal cases result in guilty pleas where the punishment is lower than what could happen if you are found guilty after a trial. Judges do not offer plea agreements. Prosecutors do. As a result, sending a letter to a judge asking for a more lenient plea is not something that will likely affect your case. When in doubt, talk with your criminal defense attorney before you talk to a judge or prosecutor.

2) Judges have two options, they can accept a plea agreement or reject it. They cannot give a defendant a sentence that is lower than the plea allows without getting the prosecutor to consent. As a result, if you sign a plea agreement with a range of 2 to 4 years, you can’t ask the judge for 1 year. If the judge for whatever reason gives a sentence of one year, the prosecutor can withdraw the plea agreement and reset your case to trial. There is no way an attorney can force a prosecutor to accept changes to a plea agreement.

3) Family support is very important during sentencing. The more letters and family members that speak on your behalf, the more likely you are to get a lower sentence. Community support is a very powerful tool to convince a judge that you deserve a second chance.

4) Accept responsibility. If you take a plea but think that you are innocent, it is probably not a good idea to share this information with the judge. Judges typically want to see that you have accepted your guilt and are looking for a way to change your habits. If you are innocent, don’t stand in front of a judge to enter a guilty plea, only to contradict yourself later.

5) Make sure you speak with your attorney before sentencing. The more your attorney knows about you, the more likely it is that your attorney will be able to convince the judge that you are a good person. Make the effort to share some personal stories and allow your lawyer into your life.

If you have any questions for a criminal defense attorney in Phoenix, call 602-989-5000.