Mental Health Courts Will Play a Key Role in Arizona Criminal Justice Reforms


Mental health courts are playing an increasingly important role in Arizona’s criminal justice system. However, the state’s prison population continues to rise making the case for the use of alternatives to incarceration.

More than 100 stakeholders in the state are pressing for alternatives, reported

From April to October 2018, Arizona Town Hall hosted 17 forums. Community members and employees of the local criminal justice system were invited to talk about the kinds of changes needed to reverse the rising prison population.  The report noted the number of people incarcerated in Arizona rose by 60 percent since 2000.

Understanding mental health courts in Arizona

Mental health courts in Arizona

That’s significantly above a national rise of 6 percent over the same period, according to reports compiled by the lobbying group

The report notes Arizona has the fourth-highest imprisonment rate in the nation and spends $1.1 billion on its prison system every year. It considers how Arizona can provide better services for mentally ill people who get into trouble with the law.

A final report considered the setting of goals for Arizona’s criminal justice system, the impacts mental illness and substance abuse, and the criminal charging process.

The report emphasized the need for a holistic approach to the issues facing Arizona’s criminal justice system.

The provision of better funding and access to addiction and mental health treatment were among the key demands in the report. It recommended adding a behavioral or mental health response option to 911 calls, better case management for people who returned to their communities after spending time in jail, and better transition and re-entry programs for defendants.

Arizona Justice System is Committed to Mental Health Courts

In a recent policy document, the Committee on Mental Health and the Justice System vowed to consider the following measures to develop mental health courts including:

  • Overseeing the creation of a model guide to help judges develop protocols to work with people with mental and behavioral healthcare needs and the criminal justice system.
  • Set up a summit to share the guide with judges, mental health professionals, court professionals, and justice system stakeholders across Arizona.
  • Review standards at Arizona mental health court standards to gauge how performance measures to include additional data and to examine data analytics. The committee will look at mental health courts in other jurisdictions and evaluate how they work.
  • Review laws and rules and how they can be improved for defendants with mental illnesses.
  • Oversee the implementation of recommendations of the Fair Justice Task Force on mental health courts as approved by the Arizona Judicial Council.
  • Identify ways to educate the public on the process of mental health courts and how they help defendants with mental illnesses.

Mental health courts in Arizona play a key role in keeping people with psychological and mental issues out of jail. See our blog to find out if you may be eligible.

If you believe the criminal justice system is failing to help your loved one’s specific needs please call our Arizona criminal defense lawyers at (602) 340-1999.

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Violent Crime Rises in Arizona as Overall Crime Falls


Crime has been falling in Arizona for at least six years, but violent crime in the state spiked last year, according to a new federal report.

Figures from the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report for 2017, which was released in September, revealed an overall drop of 1.4 percent in the state but a 7.9 percent rise in the violent crime rate.

Under the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, violent crime is made up of four offenses: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Violent crimes are defined as offenses that involve force or threat of force.

Concern as violent crime rises in Arizona

Violent crime rises in Arizona

According to the FBI report, the violent crime rate across the U.S. fell slightly by 0.9 percent in 2017. The decease followed a rise in previous years. The property crime rate in the United States fell by 3.6 percent.

Violent crimes rose by 9.5 percent last year in Arizona. The city of Phoenix accounted for much of the increase. In Phoenix, police recorded 1,800 more violent crimes in 2017 than in the previous year.

Phoenix police noted part of the rise in violent crime was linked to a change in the way figures are recorded. From 2014, definition changes have been made to aggravated assaults and rapes.

The uptick in violent crime in cities like Phoenix was expected by some academics. Michael S. Scott, a clinical professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University, told AZCentral the types of offenses recorded in the annual report can vary greatly among towns and cities. Reporting practices within individual agencies that share information with the FBI also vary. He said:

“We’ve seen years in which murder was down significantly in some major cities and up in others. Local conditions (social, environmental, economic) largely dictate crime levels rather than national factors.”

Experts warn against comparing different cities where there may be variations in how crimes are compiled. Scott told AZCentral, the data should not be used to compare cities because there are many other factors that lead to variations from place to place. While the public is concerned about violent offenses, the report leaves out crimes like drug offenses.

Violent crimes such as homicides are among the most serious offenses you can be charged with. Homicides such as first-degree murder carry a life sentence in prison and prosecutors may seek the death penalty. Other homicides such as manslaughter, second-degree murder, and negligent homicide carry significant prison sentences. You should seek the help of an experienced Arizona homicide defense lawyer as soon as possible. Call the Garcia Law Firm at (602) 340-1999.

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How Effective are Prison Diversion Programs for Mentally Ill Defendants in Arizona?


Many U.S. states have programs to divert people with mental illnesses away from the criminal justice system. However, a large number of states are failing to provide prison diversion programs and other initiatives.

According to a report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, access to alternatives to incarceration are limited for mentally ill defendants in Arizona. Just 21 percent of the population was found to be served by a mental health court.

Arizona fared better for crisis intervention teams. The study found 84 percent of the population had access to a CIT.

Prison diversion programs for mentally ill people

Prison diversion programs for mentally ill people are patchy

Police in the City of Memphis in Tennessee pioneered the crisis intervention team model in 1988. It involves a police department intensively training groups of officers on the nature of various forms of mental illness.

The Treatment Advocacy Center report stated:

“Having officers with knowledge of mental illness respond to sensitive incidents sharply reduces the risks of injury and death,”

The report’s authors awarded Arizona a B- rating. It was the 16th best state in the country for participation in jail diversion programs for mentally ill people.

Since the report was published, more mental health courts have been set up in Arizona.

A specialized court was set up in Pinal County in 2017 to give defendants with mental problems an alternative path to prison and keep them out of the criminal justice system. The court is a therapeutic, post-sentence facility for defendants placed on supervised probation.

The alternative paths for mentally ill defendants in Arizona can be beneficial. Few environments are worse for people with mental disorders than prisons. Although the programs can be demanding, they often have a more positive impact on defendants than incarceration.

In 2018, the Treatment Advocacy Center published An Analysis of U.S. Psychiatric Treatment Laws. It looked at legislation for involuntary treatment for psychiatric illness in each state. Arizona scored a B in the survey.

The study found seven states – Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee – still use an outdated standard requiring that harm to self or others needs to be imminent for a person to qualify for inpatient commitment.

If a mentally ill family member has been charged with a crime, you may be facing a traumatic ordeal. Our Phoenix criminal defense attorney specializes in representing people with mental illnesses. Please call us today at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Mental Health | Tagged |

When Can You be Imprisoned for Theft in Arizona?


Theft offenses are classified as property crimes. Although property crimes cause less alarm in communities than crimes of violence, a theft offense may be charged as a felony in Arizona. You can be imprisoned for a theft offense.

The basic definition of a theft crime the intentional taking of personal property belonging to another party without consent or a legal right to do so.

If you pick up another person’s briefcase believing it’s yours, you have not committed an offense because you lacked intent.

Jailed for theft in Arizona

When you can be imprisoned for theft in Arizona

Arizona has crimes of misdemeanor theft and felony theft on its statute books. The seriousness of the offense is linked to the value of the property stolen.

Under Arizona’s statutes, theft charges are brought as misdemeanors unless the value of the property stolen exceeds $1,000.

There are some exceptions to the rule, namely the theft of a firearm and an animal. Theft of a means of transportation is charged as a Class 3 felony.

Charges for the theft of an animal or gun are brought as a felony, even if the dollar value is less than $1,000.

If you have been charged with felony theft, there are six different categories. They are:

Class 6 Felony Thefts

If the value of the stolen  property or services was at least $1,000, but under $2,000, the offense will be charged as a class 6 felony carrying a potential prison sentence of 4 months to two years and a fine up to $150,000.

Class 5 Felony Thefts

Class 5 felony theft entail the larceny of goods or services valued from $2,000 to $3,000. This level of felony theft is punishable by a prison term of at least 6 months up to a maximum of 2.5 years, and a potential fine of up to $150,000.

Class 4 Felony Thefts

Stealing property or services valued from $3,000 to $4,000 in Arizona is classified as a Class 4 felony theft. This also applies to the larceny of a vehicle engine or a transmission.

Shoplifting may be a Class 4 felony under Arizona law when the defendant has two or more previous convictions that involved shoplifting, burglary, robbery, or theft within the previous five years. A class 4 felony theft carries a prison sentence ranging from one year to 3.75 years, and a fine of up to $150,000.

Class 3 Felony Thefts

Theft may be charged as a Class 3 felony when the value of the goods or services stolen is at least $4,000 but no greater than $25,000. The potential prison sentence rises markedly if a theft is a Class 3 felony. A conviction can lead to a prison term of two to 8.75 years and a fine of no greater than $150,000.

Class 2 Felony Thefts

When goods or services with a value over $25,000 are taken, the crime is charged as a Class 2 felony. Under Arizona law, this carries a potential prison sentence ranging from a minimum of three years to a maximum of 12.5 years, as well as a fine of up to $150,000.

A theft offense can be a serious matter in Arizona when it’s charged as a felony. The state also has civil penalties for theft which involve compensation being paid to victims.

If you or a family member has been accused of a theft crime, you should call an experienced Arizona theft defense attorney as soon as possible. Often people with a history of mental illness are wrongly accused of theft. Contact us at (602) 340-1999.


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Arizona is Accused of Dragging its Heels in Improving Mental Health Care for Inmates


The standard of mental health care for inmates in Arizona remains a matter of serious concern and an argument for alternatives. Recently, a judge accused the state over the standard of its mental health care for inmates.

In November, a judge examining a legal settlement related to the standard of health care in Arizona prisons warned an agreement the state reached four years ago faces being thrown out.

An Associated Press report noted U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver issued an order that the state was ill-advised in defending its noncompliance with mental healthcare standards for inmates.

mental health care for inmates in Arizona is under fire

Judge questions mental health care for inmates in Arizona

The judge raised the prospect of throwing out a four-year agreement and resuming litigation over the standard of inmate care in Arizona.

The judge made her comments following evidence the state has failed to make a range of improvements it was meant to implement after a 2014 lawsuit brought by prisoners.

Under the terms of the agreement, Arizona was supposed to ensure newly prescribed medications are provided to inmates within two days. Medical providers in prisons were  ordered to tell inmates about the results of diagnostic studies and pathology reports within five days of receiving the records.

The lawsuit claimed Arizona’s 10 state-run facilities failed to meet fundamental requirements for providing adequate medical and mental health care to inmates. Some prisoners complained that serious diseases like cancer went undetected. The court heard allegations some prisoners were instructed to pray to be cured.

Five months before Judge Silver’s comments, U.S. Magistrate Judge David Duncan found Arizona Corrections Director Charles Ryan in contempt of civil court. He fined Arizona $1.4 million for failing to make the bulk of the improvements to prisoner care promised when the class-action lawsuit was settled in 2014, reported AP. According to reports. Arizona paid the fine and was reimbursed by a private company that provides health care in state prisons.

Judge Silver said the court was not inclined to allow non-compliance with the provisions of the lawsuit.

As a criminal defense lawyer who represents the mentally ill, I believe everyone deserves a fair trial in the Arizona court system. In Arizona, both the criminal justice and the prison systems often fail those with mental illnesses.

The rights of all people who come before the criminal justice system must be protected. Our law firm considers the alternatives to incarceration for people who are at a disadvantage compared to others. Please contact us today for a free consultation if you or a family member has been charged with a crime.

Posted in Mental Health | Tagged |

Communicating Your Mental Illness to Your Attorney as Honestly and Accurately as Possible


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Working with a trusted criminal defense lawyer that you can be honest and open with is important. To receive the best legal representation, you need to always be up front with your attorney about your mental illness and the details surrounding your case. Remember, they are on your side so that you go through the justice system fairly and receive a fair punishment.

Communication starts with your attorney. The right attorney will encourage you to be honest and open the line of communication. Since they specialize in mental health cases, they know and understand what you are going through. All of your rights are protected, including your medical information and your legal issues. An experienced mental illness attorney will know how to break that lack of communication and will deliver compassionate, supportive and non-judgmental legal advice and representation.

When there are no secrets between you and your attorney, it will only help your case. As long as you let your attorney know all of the details, they will be able to help you receive a fair and reasonable punishment. If you are being charged with a crime and suffer from a mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, manic depression or other mental illnesses, highly consider visiting an experienced and skilled mental illness criminal defense attorney for legal advice and representation.

Garcia Law

With more than 25 years of experience, Garcia Law offers seasoned professionals that communicate fully with their clients. They know their clients’ rights and options, always making them feel like they are on their side. From a wide range of legal issues from felonies to misdemeanors, Garcia Law has the proper education and knowledge to fight for you. Just because you have a mental illness, doesn’t mean you should be silenced. Garcia Law will fight to ensure that you receive a fair case and punishment.

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Arizona is the Second Worst State for Addressing Mental Health Issues


Access to mental health services is patchy across the nation. This is particularly the case in Arizona. A recent survey found Arizona is the second worst state in the nation for addressing mental health issues.

The information was revealed in a study from the nonprofit Mental Health America. Mental Health America analyzed the extent of mental illness in each state and the District of Columbia utilizing statistics on adults and youth with a diagnosed condition, suicidal thoughts, and substance abuse issues.

The Phoenix New Times reported on how the group researched the ease of access to care by looking at the percentage of adults and young people with mental illness who reported not receiving treatment for their conditions, having unmet needs, and not being able to see a doctor due to the expense.

addressing mental health issues in Arizona

Arizona has a poor record for mental health services

Only Oregon ranked lower than Arizona in terms of access to mental health care. The best access was found in Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and South Dakota.

The New Times report noted some improvements in Arizona. Among experts in behavioral health, Arizona’s Medicaid program is seen as a model for the integration of mental health and substance abuse services. Arizona agreed to improve its services for people who don’t qualify for Medicaid and have severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia in 2014.

Michael Shafer, president of Mental Health America’s Arizona chapter, told the New Times Arizona’s main failing is in relation to those with less severe and more common conditions such as depression or anxiety.

He said Arizona lacks primary-care physicians who can screen for mental illness and refer patients to specialists before the disease has progressed much too far.

The neglect of people with low-level mental illnesses means they are not getting help. The conditions are becoming more serious before intervention and they may end up in the criminal justice system.

Writing in the Arizona Capitol Times, Scott Cummings, state president of Care1st Health Plan Arizona, warned the suicide rate in Arizona is 60 percent higher than the national average. He said there are many contributing factors like drugs, drugs or access to care.

Cummings called for the state to focus its efforts on integrating screening for mental illnesses into primary and specialty care visits to allow the early identification of those with signs and symptoms of physical and behavioral health conditions to be treated in a holistic way.

The deficiencies in Arizona’s mental health provisions mean many defendants are not getting their needs met before they reach the criminal justice system. An experienced Arizona attorney with a long track record of helping the mentally ill can assist you or a family member after your arrest. Please contact the Garcia Law Firm today for a consultation.

Posted in Arizona, Arizona Laws, Mental Health | Tagged |

What is the Guilty Except Insane Defense in Arizona?


The guilty except insane defense in Arizona, also known as GEI, can be brought when the guilt of a defendant is not in doubt but his or her mental capacity is.

This affirmative defense allows the defendant to show the existence of a serious “mental disease or defect.” Not all mental disorders allow you to claim the GEI defense. Conditions such as withdrawal from alcohol or drugs, impulse control or psychosexual disorders do not constitute legal insanity.

Likewise, conditions like sudden loss of control, passion, moral decadence or depravity do not quality for GEI unless the defendant suffers from an underlying abnormality or a disease. The condition must be of such severity that the defendant was unaware the criminal act was wrong.

The guilty except insane defense

Arizona’s guilty except insane defense

The insanity defense is controversial in all jurisdictions. Many commentators believe the insanity defense excuses people who are blameworthy and deserve to be punished for their offenses.

Insanity defenses are derived from the M’Naghten rule which was developed in 19th Century England.

Daniel M’Naghten believed he was the target of a dark conspiracy involving the pope and British Prime Minister Robert Peel. In 1843, the woodworker traveled to 10 Downing Street to ambush the Prime Minister, but mistakenly shot and killed Peel’s secretary.

Several psychiatrists testified M’Naghten was delusional during the trial. The jury agreed, declaring M’Naghten not guilty by reason of insanity.

The case caused a public outcry. A year later, a panel of British judges outlined the legal standard that has been used subsequently in Britain and jurisdictions that followed the British model. The M’Naghten rule says a defendant may be acquitted of a crime if he or she labored “under such defect of reason from disease of the mind” as to not realize what they were doing or why it was a crime. It’s also known as the “right-wrong” test.

In Arizona, the seriousness of the alleged offense has a bearing on the way a GEI case will proceed.

In cases not involving a homicide, a death threat, or actual or threatened bodily harm, a defendant found guilty except insane will be committed to a state mental institution for 75 days. The court will initiate a hearing within 75 days of the date of commitment to establish if the defendant is entitled to be released from confinement, or if the accused meets the standards for civil commitment. The defendant is required to show that he or she no longer suffers from a mental disease or defect, and does not pose a danger. If the defendant or his attorney is unable to produce clear and convincing evidence, the defendant could be civilly committed.

In more serious cases involving death, or threatened death and bodily harm, the process is different. If the defendant raises the GEI defense, the court must initially establish if a reasonable basis exists to make the plea. A recent court ruling established criminal defendants who voluntarily undergo a mental health examination after claiming an insanity defense must provide the results of this examination to the prosecution in their case.

If the court is satisfied that there is a reasonable basis for the GEI plea, the court may appoint a qualified mental health expert to evaluate the accused. Alternatively, the court can order the defendant committed for up to 30 days to a secure state-run mental health facility for evaluation. In either instance, the defendant provides a copy of their report for the court, as well as to the State and the defense counsel.

If the defendant is found to be guilty except insane by a judge in a bench trial or a jury, the court is required to sentence the accused to a term of confinement equivalent to the time of the sentence imposed had they been found guilty. This term of confinement is calculated minus the addition of sentence enhancers like prior felonies.

The defendant in GEI cases is confined to a mental health facility rather than a state prison. The defendant will be reviewed by the Psychiatric Security Review Board or PSRB during that time.   If the review board finds the defendant restored to a mental state where they are safe to rejoin society, they may be released into the community subject to conditions. The PSRB continues to maintain jurisdiction over the individual for the term of confinement.

The insanity defense In Arizona is complicated. You should hire a criminal defense attorney with a long track record in this area. Call us for a consultation at (602) 340-1999

Posted in Mental Health Defenses | Tagged |

ACLU Warns Solitary Confinement Fuels Mental Health Problems in Prison


Solitary confinement is used widely and often indiscriminately in the America prison system. Although placing a prisoner for hours on their own may make life easier for prison staff, this method is often detrimental to inmates. The ACLU has warned solitary confinement fuels mental health problems in prisons.

The American Civil Liberties Union highlighted the increased use of solitary confinement in the prison system in a recent campaign.

The ACLU claims long-term isolation of inmates does nothing to rehabilitate prisoners. It exacerbates mental illness in those who suffer from disorders and even causes it in prisoners who were healthy when they entered solitary confinement. The ACLU also points out solitary confinement is costly.

Solitary confinement aggravates mental health problems

Solitary confinement is challenged

The ACLU launched its campaign to stop prisoners being held alone in 2016. It follows considerable academic research on the negative effects of solitary confinement on inmates.

Writing in Psychology Today, psychiatrist Terry Kupers described how he toured the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail and testified as a psychiatric expert in a lawsuit the ACLU brought on behalf of prisoners claiming the jail lacked adequate mental healthcare facilities.

By the late 1980s, solitary confinement was used routinely in so-called “supermax” prisons.

Kupers recounted the story of one inmate called Tanya, who highlighted the detrimental effect solitary confinement can have on an inmate’s mental health.

Tanya (not her real name) was confined to supermax isolation after violating prison rules. She spent two years alone in a cell before being returned to the general prison population.

Kupers reported the treatment had an extreme effect on the inmate, causing anxiety attacks and paranoia. She associated solitary confinement with being locked in the closet as a child and experienced many “reliving” experiences.  Her mother routinely beat her before locking her up. She believed she was reliving the trauma on two occasions. Tanya experienced flashbacks that impacted her mental health.

Kupers concluded only a massive reduction of the prison population and the upgrading of community mental health and rehabilitation programming could help deal with mental illness problems in the criminal justice system.

An article in The Sentencing Project noted Dr. Stuart Grassian of Harvard University discovered a third of people in solitary confinement are “actively psychotic and/or acutely suicidal.”

He said people held in solitary confinement pose the highest suicide risk. Eventually being locked up alone place burdens on the families of inmates and communities as they seek to adjust to life on the outside and may leave them more likely to re-offend.

The article noted 80,000 to 100,000 adults are held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons on any given day. It is not unusual for these prisoners to remain in their cells for 23 hours a day for weeks, months, or even years.

At the Garcia Law Firm, we are well aware of how badly mentally ill inmates fare in the Arizona prison system. We follow many robust defense strategies for mentally ill people and fight for them to avoid jail time. Please call us today for a consultation at (602) 340-1999.


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When is An Assault Elevated to an Aggravated Assault in Arizona?


Assault is one of the most common offenses in Arizona. Whether you are facing misdemeanor assault or felony aggravated assault charges, the consequences of the crime can serious and devastating on your life. Aggravated assault in Arizona should not be taken lightly.

Misdemeanor assault charges can be elevated to felonies when certain aggravating factors surround the assault. Aggravated assault crimes involve injury to another person and are taken seriously by the courts.

What is aggravated assault in Arizona

Defining aggravated assault in Arizona

It’s important to hire a defense lawyer from the outset in assault cases. The attorney will be able to introduce defenses such as whether your actions stemmed from a fear of attack or were in self-defense at an early stage.

The most common forms of assault in Arizona are simple assaults. These crimes range from a class 1 misdemeanor to a class 3 misdemeanor.

You can be charged with an assault without causing injury to anyone. A class 3 misdemeanor simply requires the state to prove that the defendant knowingly touched another person with the intent to injure, insult or provoke the other person. A mere light nudge or a poke can lead to an assault charge if it is a provocative gesture.

You can be charged with a class 2 misdemeanor assault for putting someone else in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury. This charge does not require you to even touch another individual. A threat of serious injury such as a raised fist or angry words can lead to an assault charge.

A class 1 misdemeanor assault can land you in jail for six months. It’s the most serious form of a misdemeanor because the state must prove you intended to cause physical injury, whether intentionally, recklessly or knowingly. The defendant must have caused a physical injury to be convicted of a class 1 misdemeanor but it can be a minor injury such as a bruise.

An aggravated assault in Arizona is a felony defined under A.R.S. § 13-1204 (A). In some cases, there may be a gray area between a misdemeanor assault and a felony assault. Defendants can serve up to 21 years in jail for an aggravated assault. You may be charged with an aggravated assault if you:

  1. Cause serious physical injury to another;
  2. Use a deadly weapon or dangerous object to use as a weapon in the crime;
  3. Commit assault by means of any force that leads to temporary but substantial disfigurement; broken bones, temporary but substantial loss, impairment of any bodily organ or another body part;
  4. Commit assault when the victim is physically restrained, bound, or while the victim’s capacity to resist the alleged assault is substantially impaired;
  5. Commit an assault on a child under 15 if you are over the age of 18;
  6. Assault someone after entering the private home of another with the intent to commit assault;
  7. Commit a misdemeanor assault in violation of a valid protection order or restraining order.
  8. Take a police officer’s firearm or other weapon or attempt to wrest it from the officer;
  9. Commit any level of assault against a police officer, peace officers, other law enforcement officials, public defenders or criminal prosecutors, firefighters, paramedics, teachers or school employees, or licensed health care professionals while they are on their job.

The state of Arizona can be relentless in prosecuting people accused of assault. In borderline cases, a simple assault is often elevated to an aggravated assault.

If you or a family member has been charged with aggravated assault in Arizona, we are available to talk to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English or Spanish. Please call us at (602) 340-1999.

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