The criminal law in Arizona is a body of statutes defining the nature and consequences of offensive behaviors, actions, and attempts. These statutes are found throughout the Arizona Revised Statutes (Az. Rev. Stat.) but mostly concentrated in Title 13 (Criminal Code). Most crimes are actions contrary to acceptable social standards, but this is not universal. To classify an action or behavior as a crime, the legislature or the state judiciary must apply a label or legal status on it.
What Qualifies as a Crime: The Elements of a Crime in Arizona
Generally, it is not convenient to classify an action or behavior as a crime solely just because it is against acceptable social standards. However, an examination of the Arizona Criminal Code shows that all crimes have one or both of the following elements or characteristics:
- Immoral conduct or unacceptable behavior.
This characteristic is based on the broader moral beliefs in Arizona. Common examples include murder, rape, robbery, and theft. However, this sole characteristic cannot qualify all wrongs as a crime. The rule of equitable law does not permit the criminalization of an act or behavior due to deviation from social morality, e.g., adultery. Arizona criminal justice system cannot punish an individual for this conduct at the behest of the individual’s partner or public disdain. However, the criminal justice system can investigate and punish individuals who commit immoral offenses, such as sex with an underage person.
- Meets the minimum requirement for criminal liability.
A crime in Arizona may also be an action that interferes with private rights and, more importantly, harms public order. E.g., negligent manslaughter or reckless driving resulting in bodily injury. In either of these crimes, mere compensation of the victim or forgiveness will not suffice. The state must try the offender in a criminal court if the conduct meets the minimum requirements for criminal liability (Az. Rev. Stat. § 13-201). If found guilty, the court shall impose the appropriate punishment, regardless of the victim’s wishes. To put this into perspective, consider cases of physical child abuse.
A crime is not always the direct conduct of an individual against another individual or society. Under Arizona criminal law, an individual may also bear criminal liability for the conduct of another individual or entity (Az. Rev. Stat. § 13-303). The extent of accountability depends on the statute defining the offense. Generally, these include causing another individual to commit a crime and assisting an offender, despite reasonable knowledge of the consequences of such conduct.
Classification of Crimes in Arizona
Az. Rev. Stat. 13-601 broadly classifies offenses into misdemeanors and felonies. However, to impose sentences, misdemeanors and felonies are further divided into categories, depending on the gravity. Thus, there are six categories of felonies, i.e., class 1 felony (most serious) to class 6 felony (least serious offense). Likewise, there are three categories of misdemeanors, i.e., class 1 misdemeanors (most serious) to class 3 misdemeanors (least serious).
Punishment for Crimes in Arizona
Generally, the punishments for crimes in Arizona depend on the class of offense. However, other factors such as criminal history influence the severity of the punishment. Thus, depending on the circumstances surrounding an offense, first-time offenders and repeat offenders of the same crime may not get the same punishment.
- Community Service
- Probation and Limitation of Civil Privileges/Rights
The imposition of these punishments comes after a summary sentence or trial following a criminal indictment. A summary sentence applies to the less serious crimes, e.g., non-aggravated assault. The offender appears before a judge who considers the facts of the case and imposes the appropriate punishment.
However, for serious crimes, law enforcement and the state attorney must first indict the offender and pursue criminal charges. Then, these agencies schedule an appearance/hearing before a judge and jury in a court of competent jurisdiction. Because of the consequences of a guilty conviction, the case goes through a systematic process called criminal procedure.
Bear in mind that for any criminal offense and before the imposition of a punishment, the law assumes the defendant is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, the plaintiff, i.e., the state attorney or prosecutor, has the burden of proof in a criminal case. All offenders have the right to a speedy trial and protection from double jeopardy. Furthermore, an offender convicted of a crime has the right to appeal the judgment in a higher court.