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Arizona Supreme Court Holds Defendant’s Sentence Could Not Be Reversed for Being Too Lenient

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona homicide case discussing the state’s challenge to the defendant’s sentence. The state claimed that the trial court failed to follow the law when it sentenced the defendant to “life without possibility of parole for twenty-five years.” However, the court held that because the state failed to raise the issue in a timely manner, it was precluded from raising it after the defendant sought parole after having served 24 years. As a result, although the defendant’s sentence was illegally lenient, he was entitled to parole after serving 25 years in custody.

The defendant was found guilty of first-degree murder for a killing that took place in 1995. At sentencing, the trial court sentenced the defendant to “life without possibility of parole for twenty-five years,” to be followed by a period of “community supervision.” However, at the time, there was a law on the books that prohibited defendants who were convicted of first-degree murder from being eligible for parole. At the time of the defendant’s sentencing, the prosecution did not object, nor did it appeal the sentence.

After the defendant served 24 years in custody, he sought parole. The defendant was told he was not eligible for parole, and the defendant sued the Arizona State Department of Corrections. The state then sought a determination as to whether the defendant was eligible for parole.

The state’s argument was twofold. First, the state argued that the sentence was ambiguous and did not necessarily reflect the judge’s intent to make the defendant eligible for parole after 25 years. Second, the prosecution claimed that the court could not enforce an illegally lenient sentence.

The court rejected both of the state’s arguments, finding that the defendant was parole eligible. The court acknowledged that the sentence was ambiguous in that it made the defendant eligible for parole and also ordered a consecutive period of community supervision. However, the court noted that, when considering the sentence as a whole, the intent of the trial judge was to make the defendant eligible for parole after serving 25 years. In addition, the court held that although at the time it was given, the defendant’s sentence was illegal, it became final when the state chose not to appeal. Thus, the court held that the state could not now, 25 years later, seek review of the illegally lenient sentence.

Have You Been Arrested for a Serious Arizona Crime?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a serious crime, such as an Arizona violent crime, contact Attorney James E. Novak for immediate assistance. Attorney Novak is a dedicated Tempe criminal defense attorney with extensive experience handling all types of criminal cases. Whether you are facing drug charges, a gun offense, or allegations of sexual assault, Attorney Novak can help. As a former prosecutor, Attorney Novak understands how the other side thinks, and puts this knowledge to use for each of his clients. To learn more about how we can help you defend against the serious charges you are facing, call 480-413-1499 today.