Arizona has had a mandatory sentencing scheme in place for many years now. This means that the sentencing judge has less discretion to impose the sentence he or she thinks is appropriate. Instead, the judge must impose a sentence within a specific range that law makers have designated for the offense of conviction. There are additional allegations that can be made by an Arizona prosecutor in connection with certain crimes that, if proven, require a judge to sentence a defendant to mandatory prison time. One of the most common of these allegations is the "dangerous nature" allegation.
Elements Of A Dangerous Nature Allegation
A dangerous nature allegation can be attached to a number of felony crimes. They are commonly filed with charges of aggravated assault, arson, felony domestic violence, and felony disorderly conduct. To prove such an allegation, the state must show that the offense resulted in serious physical injury or that a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument was used. In other words, the state can still prove a dangerous nature allegation if there was no injury, or even any physical contact, if it can show that a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument was displayed in a threatening manner.
Serious Physical Injury
"Serious physical injury" includes injury that creates a reasonable risk of death, causes serious and permanent disfigurement, causes serious impairment of health, or causes the loss or protracted impairment of an organ or limb. If an injury only involves temporary but substantial disfigurement, or a fracture, it does not qualify as a dangerous nature offense.
So, if you get into a fight and punch someone, the punishment you face depends on the injury the other person sustains. If it is just a minor injury, you're probably looking at misdemeanor charges. If there is a broken nose that can be medically repaired without permanent disfigurement, you're probably looking at a non-dangerous, class four felony aggravated assault. If the person is permanently disfigured or is knocked unconscious and falls into a coma, you will probably charged with a dangerous nature aggravated assault.
Deadly Weapon Or Dangerous Instrument
We all have a pretty good idea what "deadly weapon" means. Technically, it's anything deigned for lethal use, but there are some gray areas. A gun, a sword, or a large knife, for example, is obviously a deadly weapon. But what about a small pocket knife, nunchakus, brass knuckles, a baseball bat, or a stick? Ultimately, a jury might have to make the call.
What constitutes a "dangerous instrument" is much less clear. Arizona defines a dangerous instrument as "anything that under the circumstances in which it is used, attempted to be used or threatened to be used is readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury." This means almost anything can be considered a dangerous instrument depending on how it is used. Whether something's use fits this definition is almost always a question for a jury to decide. Vehicles, rocks, and even fire have all been alleged as dangerous instruments.
If a dangerous nature allegation is proven, the judge has no choice but to impose a prison sentence. It doesn't matter if it was a first-time offense, a mandatory prison range still applies. Not only does a mandatory prison range apply, but the range is higher than the range would be for the same offense if the dangerous nature allegation had not been proven.
What kind of prison ranges are we talking about? Well, lets take an aggravated assault charge as an example. Although it is somewhat unusual to be charged with aggravated assault in Arizona without also facing a dangerous nature allegation, due to the nature of the crime, it is possible (see the example mentioned earlier). Sometimes a dangerous nature aggravated assault can also be reduced to a non-dangerous offense via plea bargain. A non-dangerous aggravated assault would normally be a class four felony and the judge would have the discretion to impose a sentence of either probation (if a first offense) or a prison term of 1 to 3.75 years. A non-dangerous class 3 felony aggravated assault is punishable by probation (if a first offense) or 2 to 8.75 years in prison. If a dangerous nature allegation is filed and proven, however, the judge must impose a prison sentence between 5 and 15 years. To make matters worse, a dangerous nature sentence must be served day-for-day; there is no credit for good time available as there would be for a non-dangerous offense. Moreover, conviction for a dangerous nature crime usually means that you will serve your prison sentence on a high-security prison yard because the Arizona Department of Corrections will classify you as a greater risk.
* This blog is published by Tucson criminal defense lawyer Nathan D. Leonardo. Nothing on this website is intended to create an attorney-client relationship. The information provided herein does not constitute legal advice, but is for general information purposes only. If you have a legal question, you can contact us online or call (520) 314-4125.