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What is a Criminal Offense in Arizona?
In general, there are two types of offenses in Arizona: civil and criminal. Civil cases are typically disputes between individuals or organizations and often involve some type of monetary disagreement. Criminal cases involve an action that is considered to be harmful to society as a whole, which is why they are prosecuted by the state or federal government. A civil suit is filed by one individual against another. Criminal offenses and civil offenses usually differ in terms of possible punishment. Someone convicted in a criminal case faces jail time, while civil cases generally only result in monetary damages or instructions to do or not do something.
The standard of proof is also very different in a criminal case versus a civil case. Crimes must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, but civil cases have a low standard of proof, typically a preponderance of the evidence. There is a difference in standards because civil liability is considered less blameworthy and because the punishments are not as severe as in criminal cases.
In most circumstances, criminal cases provide a trial by jury. While civil cases can also allow for juries, more often than not civil cases will be decided by a judge.
Am I Entitled to an Attorney if it’s a Civil Case?
A defendant in a criminal case is entitled to an attorney, and if he or she can’t afford one, the state must provide qualified representation. A defendant in a civil case is not given an attorney and must pay for one out of their own pocket or else act as their own attorney.
There are many legal protections given to defendants in a criminal case, like the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against illegal searches and seizures. In a civil case, many of these protections are not available to a defendant.
Although criminal and civil cases are handled very differently, it is possible for the same actions to result in both criminal and civil liability. This is frequently seen in murder or manslaughter cases. There will be a criminal trial to determine guilt, and then afterwards, survivors of the victim may file a civil suit for damages caused by the death of their loved one.
What Will Happen to Me if I’m Charged with a Crime in Arizona?
The consequences of a criminal offense are meant to be proportional to the harm that the crime caused. If a policeman pulls you over at midnight because your car stereo is violating a local noise ordinance, you will likely just get a ticket and have to pay a fine. But if you are pulled over for erratic driving and the officer determines you’re impaired, you are likely to be arrested for a DUI. Your punishment in that case could include probation or jail time. But both the noise ordinance violation and the DUI will appear on your criminal history record.
There are many types of crimes, but they are generally classified as either personal crimes or property crimes. Personal crimes are offenses against the individual and include assault, battery, false imprisonment, domestic violence, kidnapping, murder, manslaughter, vehicular homicide, rape, and sexual assault.
Property crimes do not generally result in physical harm to another person. These are offenses against property such as stealing, robbery (stealing by force), burglary, arson, embezzlement, forgery, cons, and fraud.
What are My Rights?
If you are ever arrested for a criminal offense, it is important to know your rights. Everyone knows intellectually that they have the right to remain silent, but not everybody abides by it. But they always should. There are not many situations that it behooves you to make a statement to the police unless it is after consulting with your attorney and done in their presence. So always ask for a lawyer before saying anything. Be polite but firm. The law requires enforcement officers to stop all questioning once you ask for an attorney.
Do not agree to let police search you, your car, or your home without a search warrant, which can only be approved when there is probable cause. If you consent to a search, probable cause is waived and cannot be used in a trial.
Always remain respectful and never get confrontational. It is a no-win proposition to get physical.
Never lie or give false information to the police. You must tell them your identity and show ID. But other than that, you have the right to remain silent.
Do not discuss your case with anyone other than your lawyer.
What Should I Do if Accused of a Crime?
Most importantly, hire an experienced trial attorney the moment you are arrested. Also, make sure you feel comfortable with the attorney, and beware lawyers who make promises or guarantees.