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First-time offenders who commit multiple felonies on different dates will get lighter sentences after Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation similar to a bill he vetoed two years ago.
State law permits harsher sentences for repeat offenders. But those sentences are often applied to first-time offenders who commit multiple felonies on different dates, which can dramatically lengthen sentences for first-time offenders.
Under existing law, first-time offenders with multiple felony charges can be charged as category one repetitive offenders for their second charge, which permits longer sentences. And for a third or subsequent offense, they can be charged as category two repetitive offenders. Being convicted as a category two offender instead of category one can add anywhere from six months to 10 years to a prison sentence, depending on the charge.
House Bill 2318, which Ducey signed on Wednesday, changes that sentencing structure. Under the legislation, a first-time offender can no longer be sentenced under category two.
The bill was one of three criminal justice reform measures that Ducey signed. House Bill 2319 prohibits state agencies from denying occupational licenses to qualified applicants with drug convictions, with the exception of teacher certifications and health professional regulatory boards. And House Bill 2166 requires state and local criminal justice agencies to report data they already collect to the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission.
Ducey touted the three bills as “responsible criminal justice reform legislation.”
“We are committed to protecting Arizona families and our communities,” Ducey said in a press statement. “I’m proud to sign legislation that prioritizes the safety of Arizonans, while strengthening our prison system and supporting those who served their time.”
Ducey vetoed a similar bill on repeat offenders, which are commonly referred to as Hannah priors, in 2019 at the behest of Barbara LaWall and Bill Montgomery, who were the Pima and Maricopa County attorneys at the time. Armando Nava, the Maricopa County president-elect of Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, said the 2019 bill would have allowed first-time offenders with multiple felonies from different dates eligible for probation for all offenses, while HB2318 only permits probation for the first offense.
Though the bill doesn’t go as far as Nava would’ve liked, he called it a major improvement over the current system.
“It recognizes that you’re still a first-time offender, and while it does place you as a prison-mandatory kind of situation, it takes away some of that draconian effect. So, it is still addressing the mass incarceration issue and is still injecting some reasonableness into our sentencing structure,” Nava said.
Nava said the bill also improves sentencing for some repeat offenders as well.
Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, who sponsored the repeat offender and occupational licenses bills, thanked Ducey for signing his legislation. He told the Mirror that he worked with prosecutors and others from the criminal justice world during the off-session to ensure that his repeat offender bill had broad support.
“Those who break the law need to be held accountable, but we can help them rebuild and move forward after their sentence,” Toma said in the governor’s press statement.
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