Understanding Misdemeanor Charges and Jail Time in Arizona

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Understanding Misdemeanor Charges and Jail Time in Arizona

Being charged with a crime can change your life. If you are new to the criminal justice system, it might be confusing when you are charged with a class 3 misdemeanor. What does that even mean? 

Understanding your charges is the first step in taking an active part in your defense. The second is hiring the right attorney to represent you. This article explains the differences between the three misdemeanor classes in Arizona, along with the difference between felony and misdemeanor charges. 

Misdemeanors vs. Felonies 

There are two big differences between felonies and misdemeanors: the length of time that you might spend in custody, and the place where you would be incarcerated. The difference between jail vs. prison is exactly the same as the difference between misdemeanors vs. felonies.

Felony convictions have mandatory prison sentences. Felonies also involve the loss of certain rights, like the right to vote or own a firearm, or being eligible for social services like food stamps. Misdemeanors, on the other hand, have jail time instead of prison. However, misdemeanor sentences can sometimes be plead down to community service or probation. 

Petty Offenses Are Not Misdemeanors or Felonies

Petty offenses in Arizona are offenses that are considered small and are not nearly as serious as misdemeanor or felony offenses. They can include crimes like shoplifting, minor speeding infractions, or feeding wildlife

The penalties for these offenses are usually no more than a $300 fine. However, if multiple petty offenses are committed within two years, you may face other penalties. 

The Three Misdemeanor Classes in Arizona 

There are 3 different classes for misdemeanors. Class 1 is the harshest, featuring the most jail time and highest fines, while Class 3 has the lightest penalties. You cannot plead your case from a class 1 to a class 3 misdemeanor. However, you might be able to plead down the amount of time in jail, or only have to serve community service if found guilty.

The reason that many states—Arizona included—break up their misdemeanors into different classes is to help differentiate between the severity of the crimes at a glance, as well as allow for the penalties to be fair. Without this penal check, judges could hypothetically send someone to jail for a year for trespassing by treading on their neighbor’s lawn. 

Penalties for Misdemeanors in Arizona

If you are charged with a misdemeanor offense, you could face jail time, but an experienced lawyer can help you stay out of jail. It is possible to commute a jail sentence to community service or probation. There are no minimums or maximums for community service or probation—it all depends on the judge. 

Class 1 Misdemeanors

Common Crimes: Assault, DUIs, Disorderly Conduct

Maximum Jail Time: 6 months

Maximum Fines: $2,500 

Class 2 Misdemeanors

Common Crimes: Criminal Damage under $250, Reckless Driving, Leaving an Accident

Maximum Jail Time: 4 months

Maximum Fines: $750

Class 3 Misdemeanors

Common Crimes: Criminal Trespass, Assaultive Touching, Excessive Speeding

Maximum Jail Time: 30 days

Maximum Fines: $500

Repeat Charges Can Lead to Harsher Sentencing

According to the Arizona penal code, being charged and tried for the same misdemeanor offense within two years means that your next charge will be bumped up to a higher class. The only offenses that this rule does not affect are traffic violations. 

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Phoenix 

If you or a loved one has been charged with a misdemeanor, you need an attorney that has experience defending criminal cases. Coolidge Law Firm has one of the best, most knowledgeable defense teams in all of Arizona. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.


Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (3/19/23). Photo by Milad Fakurian on Unsplash.