Introduction to Misdemeanor Crimes in Arizona
In the eyes of common law countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, a misdemeanor is a crime of medium severity, resting lower than a felony and higher than an infraction. Formally, any crime with an incarceration up to a year is considered a misdemeanor, while anything beyond that is considered a felony. Typically though, a misdemeanor does not result in incarceration, and is more commonly punished with a monetary fee. The term misdemeanor encompasses a broad spectrum of severity, and just like felonies, are assigned varying punishments based upon the affect on society.
Different Classes of Misdemeanors:
There are four classes of misdemeanor nationally, but only three under Arizona law: Classes 1, 2, and 3. Each class holds a different maximum punishment limit, subject to different standards of misdemeanor.
Class 1/A: Fines of up to 2500 dollars and/or a jail sentence up to 6 months (plus up to 5 years max probation)
Class 2/B: Fines of up to 750 dollars and/or a jail sentence up to 4 months (plus up to 2 years probation)
Class 3/C: Fines of up to 500 dollars and/or a jail sentence up to 30 days (plus up to 1 year probation)
Compared to national misdemeanor standards, the Arizona punishments are significantly more lenient, and completely eliminate the Class 4/D designation. Here are the national misdemeanor laws in comparison:
–Class 1 or A: Fines of up to $5,000, and/or a jail sentence of up to 12 mon
-Class 2 or B: Fines up to $1,000, and/or a jail sentence of 6-9 months
-Class 3 or C: Fines up to $1,000 and/or a jail sentence of up to 3 months
-Class 4 or D: Fines up to $500 and/or a jail sentence of up to 30 days
These classifications do have a few caveats. Arizona will usually not assign jail time for Class 3/C misdemeanors; typically, the courts will simply charge fees. Additionally, it must be stated that if one repeats a misdemeanor offense, the punishment can be greater than the stated maximum punishment for a class of misdemeanor. For instance, if one commits a repeat offense for a Class 3/C misdemeanor, it is possible they can be punished more severely than the 500 dollar/ 30 day jail limit.
Examples of Misdemeanors:
The following is not a comprehensive list of misdemeanors, as there are hundreds under Arizona law. However, here are several of the most common listed under their accompanying classifications:
-Assault resulting in bodily injury
–DUI/DWI (Driving Under the Influence or Driving While Impaired)
-Misdemeanor Domestic Violence (Less Severe Domestic Violence)
-Obscenity (Law is formally defined as: “whether it depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law and whether that work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value)
-Possession of a controlled substance
-Unlawful Possession of a weapon
-Violation of a restraining order
– Theft of property valued between fifty and five hundred dollars
– Giving a false police report
– Running from an officer on foot
– Possession of marijuana (in a decriminalized state)
-Theft valued under fifty dollars
The Line between Misdemeanor and Felony:
For some misdemeanors, especially class 1/A misdemeanors, the line between misdemeanor and felony is very thin. For many offenses, including but not limited to many class 1/A offenses, it is the court that determines whether the crime is a misdemeanor or felony. This is done based on the nature of the crime committed, the evidence presented in the case, and as always, the judge’s discretion.
A “wobbler” is a term for this type of offense which could be justifiably classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The laws for “wobbler” offenses in Arizona are unique to only a few states around the country. Typically, someone is convicted of a misdemeanor offense, and the punishments are doled out based on the state’s agreed upon laws. This makes court cases more predictable, since the labeling of the offense as a misdemeanor, along with its accompanying punishments, is set in stone. However, in states like Arizona and California, there are a group of crimes which are not subject to this strict classification. This group includes but is not limited to:
-Dissuading a victim from making a police report
-Battery against a police officer
-Assault with a stun gun
-Seduction of a minor for prostitution
-Oral copulation with a minor
The list, of course, goes on. In states like California and Arizona, “wobbler” offenses are not labeled as misdemeanor or felony prior to the court case, but is rather determined based on the ultimate punishment assigned. This is often determined based on whether the accused is sentenced to a state prison or a county jail, with the state prison belonging to a felony conviction and the county jail a misdemeanor conviction. In California, for many offenses, the court will begin assuming a felony, and it is the burden of the defendant to re-classify the offense as a misdemeanor. However, besides the severity of the punishment, what other differences are there between a misdemeanor and felony conviction?
The Long Term Effects of Misdemeanor versus Felony Convictions
Even after a punishment is completed, whether that be jail time or financial compensation, an offense is listed on one’s criminal record. This is true for both misdemeanors and felonies. Many businesses require background checks, which makes the acquisition of a job very difficult for someone charged with a crime. However, just as misdemeanors and felonies vary greatly in their severity of punishment, so too do they vary on long-term effects. Many businesses will only run felony background checks, while others will run a comprehensive check which even includes infractions like speeding tickets. It is truly up to the employer’s discretion when it comes to the importance of misdemeanor charges on one’s permanent record.
While under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission there are limits to the extent to which businesses can reject potential employees based on their criminal background, there are certain professions- such as nursing, law, and psychology- which have stricter rules against prior criminal activity. Additionally, it is possible to expunge a charge from one’s criminal record. In Arizona, the laws for expungement are fairly straightforward, allowing someone to petition to “set aside” their conviction in the eyes of the court once the sentence has been completed. However, the petition will likely only be approved in non-violent cases, and only after a certain period of time has elapsed (sometimes 10-15 years).
The differences between a misdemeanor and a felony conviction also fall into the realm of civil liberties. For instance, someone who is convicted of a felony will often lose their second amendment rights (right to bear arms), right to vote, serve on a jury, and hold public office. There is rarely any loss of civil liberties when one is convicted of a misdemeanor.
If you are accused of a misdemeanor:
If you have been accused of a misdemeanor in Arizona, the very first thing you should do is contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. With “wobbler” laws as they are in Arizona, it is very important that you are sufficiently represented in court to reduce the sentence as much as possible.
Second, you will have an arraignment, which is your first appearance in front of a judge. The arraignment will be more of a formality, and is generally the time when you and your attorney will declare that you are “not guilty,” which simply means that you are open to negotiation with the opposing party. If the misdemeanor’s punishment is limited to a fee, you and your attorney may decide to declare “guilty” and simply pay said fee. However, if your punishment may include jail time, the judge will not allow a “guilty” declaration, and will automatically assign you a non-guilty status. If it is relevant, this is also the time when the judge will determine release conditions.
Next, there will be a pre-trial conference, or multiple conferences, where the bulk of the negotiation will take place. Much of this negotiation will take place behind the scenes, but there will also be court appearances, where the judge will attempt to decide whether the case lends itself more to resolution or trial.
After that, there may be a trial readiness conference, where a judge will either decide upon resolution or a date for trial. The defendant usually must appear in court for this conference, to prove their understanding to the judge. This will often be done in the midst of evidentiary hearings, where your attorney will attempt to find evidence of dismissal. Circumstances including unwarranted searches or false testimony can provide this evidence. If this fails, and a resolution is not decided, the case will go to trial. Depending on severity, this trial will or will not be conducted before a jury. The entire process should last roughly three to six months. For more information see
Formally, a plea bargain is an agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor(in this case the state), where the defendant pleads guilty to a charge in exchange for a concession from the prosecution. This is commonly done in the arraignment stage of the process, when a judge is declaring one’s offenses. To explain plea bargains, one must understand that offenses are generally not assigned in isolation. Often, offenses imply other offenses, since there are just so many laws. For instance, if you are charged with a DUI, and you are under-aged, you will be charged with under-aged drinking and endangerment to other drivers.
In this situation, a judge may offer to drop the charge of endangerment to others if you plead guilty to the charge of under-aged drinking. This means that, in exchange for the immediate payment of a certain charge, the other charge is completely dropped, including from your criminal record. Plea bargains are often a great option for those who did indeed commit the misdemeanor for which they are accused, since they could limit the damage done in court. However, if you have been falsely accused, it may be in your best interest to not accept a plea bargain, since under proper representation you could be cleared of all charges. Because every case is different, it is vitally important to hire a reliable criminal defense attorney to limit the damages from a misdemeanor trial.
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