If you’ve been exposed to the Arizona criminal justice system, especially felony cases in northern Arizona, may have heard of “mitigation hearings” or “pre-sentencing hearings.”
But if you’re looking at a possible prison sentence in the Arizona Department of Corrections, you don’t want to just walk into a Sentencing Hearing and hope for the best. You need a lawyer who will prepare a mitigation case, file a Sentencing Memorandum, seek positive reference letters and testimony, challenge the State’s aggravating factors and arguments, and put on a Pre-Sentencing Hearing pursuant to Rule 26.7, Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure.
Normally, felony sentencing occurs at a Sentencing Hearing after either a jury trial or change of plea (wherein the defendant pleads guilty or no contest). A Sentencing Hearing in Coconino County, Yavapai County, Mohave County, or Navajo County typically occurs 15-30 days after the determination of guilt. See Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 26.3(a).
According to Rule 26.7, the Court shall hold a pre-sentencing hearing if the defendant requests one. And the Court can’t hold a mitigation hearing, let’s call it, until the Adult Probation Department (or whoever the judge appoints) creates the Pre-Sentence Report. The Pre-Sentence Report is a compilation of relevant information about the defendant, including family history, substance abuse history, criminal history, facts of the present csae, statements from victims and others, and lots more.
At the mitigation hearing, both the defendant and the prosecutor can introduce any reliable, relevant evidence, including hearsay, in order to show aggravating or mitigating circumstances, to show why sentence should not be imposed, or to correct or amplify the pre-sentence reports.
In summary, after a person pleads guilty to a felony, a good defense lawyer should be work very hard in preparation for sentencing because Arizona law provides lawyers with a lot of methods for getting a judge to see and find mitigation, which can result in a significantly lighter sentence.
In a recent case I handled, the prosecutor argued for the maximum sentence of 3 years in prison, and because I prepared hard, filed a pre-sentencing memorandum, interviewed witnesses, and articulated the mitigating factors in a favorable way, my client got the minimum sentence.