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March 3, 2007

Update on Arizona's copious capital craziness

As noted in prior posts here and here, an Arizona county attorney's decision to seek the penalty in nearly half of all first-degree murder cases in his jurisdiction has created a resource crisis that was supposed to spill into a court hearing yesterday.  Though the hearing was canceled (details here), this latest article in the Arizona Republic shows that these matters merit continued attention by anyone studying the death penalty administration and/or prosecutorial discretion.  Here are some details:

County agencies have until Wednesday to come up with a plan to provide lawyers for defendants who face the death penalty, a judge ruled Friday.  The county must furnish lead attorneys for inmates who don't have one, provide lawyers for capital cases in the pipeline and craft a plan to avoid a future crisis, ruled Presiding Criminal Judge James Keppel of Maricopa County Superior Court.

The ruling brought prosecutors and legal-defense groups one step closer to resolving the record number of death-penalty cases in Maricopa County. There are more than 135 death-penalty cases in trial or awaiting trial.  In February, about 10 inmates lacked a qualified "first chair" attorney to represent them. The judge praised recent talks among county leaders to fix the problem. "I applaud your efforts to resolve these issues," Keppel said, adding that he will order County Attorney Andrew Thomas and other officials back into court if they miss the deadline. "We need more of this to avoid litigation and its attendant cost to taxpayers."

Over the past two years, Maricopa County has nearly doubled what it spends on defending capital cases, court documents show.  From fiscal 2005 to fiscal 2007, capital-case defense costs jumped to $8.5 million from $4.9 million.  Most defendants who face the death penalty can't afford to pay for their own defense, leaving taxpayers with the bill.

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March 3, 2007 at 03:02 PM | Permalink

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