Understanding your rights as a criminal defendant in Arizona starts with learning the difference between a misdemeanor, felony, and aggravated felony. The penalties and potential consequences you could face will vary based on the classification of your alleged crime. An aggravated felony is one of the more serious classifications, with penalties that could impact you for life. Work with a talented Glendale criminal defense lawyer to optimize your odds of reducing an aggravated felony charge to a lower class if a dismissal isn’t possible.
Felony vs. Aggravated Felony in Arizona
The United States Congress introduced the “aggravated felony” in 1988, originally as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act. According to the act, an aggravated felony is a “particularly serious crime” that’s punishable by more than one-year imprisonment. In the beginning, the courts only used this felony classification for serious crimes such as murder and felony drug or firearm trafficking. In 1996, however, two other terrorism and immigration act expanded the definition, adding additional criminal convictions that may qualify as aggravated felonies.
The list of aggravated felony crimes today includes:
- Rape or sexual abuse of a minor
- Money laundering offenses of amounts exceeding $10,000
- Explosive materials offenses
- Theft/burglary offenses with a term of imprisonment of at least one year
- Child pornography offenses
- Serious racketeering offenses
- Certain prostitution offenses and sex trafficking
- Obstructing justice with a term of imprisonment of at least one year
The courts may upgrade many felony crimes to aggravated felonies if certain “aggravating factors” exist. For example, if a defendant used a deadly weapon or dangerous object to commit assault, his or her crime would constitute an aggravated felony instead of just a felony. Aggravating factors often include causing serious injury or death or doing something recklessly or intentionally. The punishments for an aggravated felony are always more serious than a non-elevated felony.
Penalties for Conviction of an Aggravated Felony
The punishments and penalties for an aggravated felony will depend upon the nature of the crime, as well as the courts’ discretion during sentencing. Your defense lawyer will be able to tell you the exact penalties you could face for your particular crime. In the meantime, however, look at the typical consequences of two of the most common types of aggravated felonies in Arizona:
- Aggravated felony assault. If convicted of a felony assault in Arizona, defendants can face 18 months to 21 years or longer in prison. In addition, the defendant may have to pay fines up to $150,000, plus restitution. The more severe the assault class on a scale of two to six, the more severe the penalties.
- Aggravated felony driving under the influence (DUI). Aggravated DUI is a class four felony crime with mandatory prison time. Defendants could face four months to six years’ incarceration depending on the severity of the crime, on top of thousands of dollars in fines and penalties. Penalties can be worse for repeat DUI/DWI offenders.
If you are not a citizen of the United States, an aggravated felony conviction will bar you from obtaining a visa. Conviction will immediately trigger arrest and removal proceedings if you attempt to reenter the country. It’s incredibly important to hire a great defense attorney if you’re facing potential aggravated felony charges of any kind. A defense lawyer may be able to reduce the classification of the charges against you.
When to Hire an Attorney
Don’t trust charges as serious as aggravated felony to the hands of a busy public defender. Choose a defense lawyer with the time, energy, and resources to spend on your case. You need top representation in Arizona to fight off an aggravated felony criminal charge. Call and hire a trusted criminal defense attorney as soon as possible after your arrest for your best chance of a positive case outcome.