Posted on June 10, 2021 in Criminal Defense
Many people are aware of the differences between civil and criminal law. If you enter into a contract with someone and they don’t hold up their end of the bargain, you can’t call the police and have them arrested. You must sue them, civilly, for the damages you’ve sustained.
Yet, as our legal system grows more and more complex, many areas of the law that were wholly within the civil realm have since become criminal. For example, the civil torts of assault and battery have been almost entirely swallowed up by criminal law.
Yet, Arizona law is relatively unique. Our criminal code allows for a “misdemeanor compromise” mechanism, which helps re-balance the scales between criminal and civil law.
Since 1901, Arizona has allowed for “misdemeanor compromises” in certain specific cases. A misdemeanor compromise enables an individual to make the victim of certain types of offenses whole, in exchange for “compromising” the misdemeanor, leading to its dismissal.
This serves important public policy goals. It saves scarce judicial resources, holds the offender accountable for the harm they have caused, and allows the victim to recoup their losses. Most importantly, it preserves an individual’s criminal record and prevents a conviction from being entered.
A defendant accused of committing a misdemeanor offense against an individual may be compromised if the act that constituted the offense also creates a remedy by a civil action. Suppose the actions that are alleged to be criminal also make a civil cause of action. In that case, the offense may be eligible for a misdemeanor compromise.
Arizona law has held that the “compromise statute applies only to a specific act which necessarily inflicts injury upon the person or property of a private citizen and at the same time is made punishable by law as a misdemeanor.” This means that one act must create two causes of action: criminal and civil. The seminal Arizona case involves a DUI driver who caused physical injury and property damage to another. The DUI driver sought a misdemeanor compromise but was unable to do so because the offensive act was considered to be “driving under the influence.” Thus, the property damage and personal injuries were only incidental to that act.
Arizona courts have also held that “hit and runs” or leaving the scene of an accident is ineligible for misdemeanor compromise. This is because the crime of leaving the accident scene is incidental to the damage caused by the accident.
In addition to the requirement that the offensive act give rise to criminal and civil liability, certain offenses are ineligible for misdemeanor compromise, including:
Despite being over 100 years old, many prosecutors are unaware of the misdemeanor compromise statute or the intricacies of how it works. This leads many prosecutors to try and object, block, or otherwise interfere with the rights of a victim and defendant to resolve a case through misdemeanor compromise.
Fortunately, the misdemeanor compromise statute is relatively straightforward: a misdemeanor compromise is an agreement between the defendant, the victim, and the Court. There are few instances in which a prosecutor’s position matters:
If any of the above instances apply, the case may not be compromised without the recommendation of the prosecuting attorney.
The process for obtaining a misdemeanor compromise is fairly straightforward. First, the defendant’s attorney would advise the prosecutor that a misdemeanor compromise is being sought and direct the prosecutor to inform the victim of this fact. The reason for this is because Arizona has passed strong victim’s rights laws that require that a defense attorney not contact victims directly without the victim’s consent. Thus, the defense attorney must go through the prosecutor.
The prosecutor must communicate the request. The prosecutor is not the victim’s attorney. In this instance, the prosecutor is simply a messenger. If the victim consents to being contacted by the defense attorney, or consents to a misdemeanor compromise, the process move forward.
At this point, a defense attorney will negotiate with the victim (directly or through the prosecutor) and arrange “satisfaction” for the injury caused. This is typically a sum of money but theoretically can include things such as a formal apology, anger management classes, or the like.
Once the victim (or “injured party”) is satisfied, they will advise the Court that they have received satisfaction for the injury. You can do this in person or through a notarized statement. Many courts and prosecutorial agencies have simple form templates for this purpose. The defendant must pay the court costs incurred, and then the Court will dismiss the case.
A case resolved through a misdemeanor compromise finishes the case. It may not be brought again by the prosecuting agency.
A misdemeanor compromise may be available in a wide variety of cases. The following list is by no means definitive, nor is it any guarantee that a misdemeanor compromise will be available in every case. However, generally, the following offenses also carry a civil cause of action and may be eligible for misdemeanor compromise:
Hiring an experienced and dedicated criminal defense attorney is vital to maximizing receiving a misdemeanor compromise. At AZ Defenders, our attorneys are well-versed in both criminal and civil law and are ready to help! Call (480) 456-6400 for a free consultation today.