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March 8, 2007

Bills coming due for Arizona's capital craze

Today's Arizona Republic has this article, entitled "Ending jam in capital cases to cost in 'millions,'" which details some economic consequences of Maricopa County Attorney's massive increase in the number of capital charges.  Here are some details:

Maricopa County found lawyers on Wednesday for a dozen inmates who face the death penalty. But the emergency and long-term plans to fix the backlog of capital cases could fall apart unless the county supervisors pump money into the public defender system. It could ultimately cost "millions" for the county to bulk up the public defender offices and solve the attorney shortage, several officials said.

The county now pays $8.5 million to defend capital cases. "We realize that we are probably going to have to allocate more money," said county Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, adding that she is waiting for a final report on a permanent solution.... 

Maricopa County has drawn national attention because it's being strained by a record number of death-penalty cases. The county has more pending cases than Los Angeles County, which has more than twice as many residents, and the so-called "death-penalty capital" of Harris County, Texas.

There are more than 130 cases in trial or awaiting trial, and the county's four indigent defense agencies say that they have run out of attorneys to handle them.  Most people who face the death penalty can't afford an attorney, and taxpayers pick up the tab.  If the inmates don't have qualified lawyers, prosecutors risk having death sentences overturned, which would mean trying the expensive cases all over again and retraumatizing families of murder victims.

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March 8, 2007 at 10:28 PM | Permalink

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