What Exactly Is a Mandatory Sentence?

Arizona's legislature has created mandatory sentencing for any number of criminal offenses. A mandatory sentence means that upon conviction, the judge or court has no discretion and must impose a prison term, the minimum and maximum terms are set by law. Even if the judge feels that probation is appropriate, he or she is bound by the law to sentence a defendant to prison.

What Kind of Crimes Carry Mandatory Sentences in Arizona

Dangerous Crimes Against Children are offenses committed against victims 14 years old or younger. Such crimes include sexual conduct with a minor, child molestation, and sexual exploitation of a minor (possession or distribution of child pornography.) Long mandatory prison sentences are mandated upon conviction and any sentence must run consecutive, or back to back, with any other sentence for a dangerous crime against children, and no early release is possible. A conviction for sexual assault, even if committed against an adult, requires mandatory prison; however, the term is substantially less than for a dangerous crime against children.

Drug offenses which exceed the statutory threshold also require mandatory prison under Arizona law. A drug offense exceeds the threshold if the value of the drugs exceeds $1,000.00. As examples, a transportation of marijuana charge involving about 2 pounds or a sale of narcotic drugs (cocaine) involving more than 9 grams requires mandatory prison under Arizona law.

White collar offenses, such as theft, can also require mandatory prison if the amount of loss exceeds $100,000.00, though such offenses are often prosecuted in federal court when this loss amount is at issue.

Repetitive offenses, or offenses committed when one has prior felony convictions, also require mandatory prison upon conviction. In other words, even though an offense may be probation eligible, the fact that the accused has been convicted of another felony offense in the last 5 or 10 years (depending on the nature of the charge) can make prison mandatory.

Dangerous offenses are among the most common charges that have mandatory sentencing laws. A dangerous offense is one that involves the use of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument in the commission of the crime. An offense can also be classified as dangerous if the victim sustained a serious physical injury, even if no weapon or dangerous instrument was involved.
In cases of vehicular crimes where someone is injured or killed, prosecutors often allege that an automobile is a deadly weapon, to raise the stakes by making prison mandatory upon conviction.
Examples of deadly weapons or dangerous instruments include guns, knives, and even screwdrivers - depending on how it is used. Aggravated assault, armed robbery, drive-by shooting, and murder are common examples of violent crimes for which mandatory prison sentences are sought.

Just because you have been charged with a crime that carries mandatory prison time doesn’t mean that your fate is sealed. With the assistance of a determined Phoenix criminal defense attorney, it is not too late to turn the tables.

Mandatory Terms Or Just Scare Tactics?

The reality is that less than 5% of all cases go to trial. A lot of criminal defense lawyers try to scare their clients by telling them the maximum mandatory sentence that is possible. They could also tell them about the possibility of finding a purple baby elephant in the back seat of your car when you leave for work one morning. Anything is possible, but I think that being honest, fair, and realistic is better than scaring people when they are emotionally vulnerable. It's the right thing to do and, besides, karma is a funny thing.

How We Can Help You

Prosecutors and experienced criminal defense attorneys know how to effectively negotiate and 'massage' charges to take mandatory prison off the table.

  • Sex crimes can be amended to something that is not prison mandatory
  • White collar crimes can have the amount of financial loss reduced to give a judge discretion to order that no jail time be served
  • Drug offenses can be negotiated in a way to reduce the amount of drugs at issue to below the threshold
  • Dangerous crimes can be treated as non-dangerous offenses
  • Prior convictions can be dismissed to allow for probation

The point is that mandatory prison is often a trump card that prosecutors use and one which some defense attorneys capitalize on to scare and bully their clients. But an experienced criminal defense lawyer knows that the prosecutor's trump card is often nothing but a bluff. Take a look at our Recent Results page. You will see that most every charge listed started as a mandatory prison offense. We didn't balk and aggressively represented and defended our clients to achieve a highly successful outcome in each of these cases. And if it takes going to trial to defend our clients' rights, then that's exactly what we will do.

A Final Thought on Mandatory Sentencing in Arizona

"Don't Believe the Hype."

--Flavor Flav, 1988.

If you would like to learn more information about what the Law Office of Jason D. Lamm can do for you, call our office at (602) 663-9100 to begin your defense today.

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