Post by SoulTrainOz on Jul 18, 2006 23:43:33 GMT -5
A panel of lawyers and other experts is recommending steps that members would make the death penalty fairer in Arizona.
A team organized by the American Bar Association says Arizona should ensure that all indigent defendants get competent lawyers and give a prosecutors council or another statewide organization the final say of whether to seek the death penalty in individual cases in all 15 counties.
The recommendations also include seeking new legal reviews of whether death sentences are imposed proportionately and providing new oversight and funding of crime labs and medical examiners.
Members of the team include private attorneys, the top death penalty lawyer of the state attorney general's office and a former U-S attorney for Arizona. Other members included an Arizona State University law professor and an A-S-U researcher.
Post by SoulTrainOz on Jul 20, 2006 7:15:07 GMT -5
William Hermann, The Arizona Republic
County attorneys should relinquish their authority in the charging of capital crimes to the state, according to a new report recommending major changes to Arizona's death penalty.
The report, sponsored by the American Bar Association, also calls for state supervision of county and municipal crime labs, better pay for court-appointed attorneys, standardization of sentencing and a clear definition of what constitutes a "cruel and heinous" crime.
A team working under the supervision of the ABA released the 21-month study Monday. It was an Arizona case that prompted the European Union to fund this and other studies. The team included a former Arizona Supreme Court justice, an Arizona State University law college professor, ASU law students, several Valley attorneys and a state Attorney General's Office official.
ASU law Professor Sigmund Popko said one of the most significant findings is that there is little consistency in how defendants in murder cases are charged. There is "arbitrary treatment of defendants; we have 15 counties with 15 county attorneys, each with the authority to seek the death penalty as he or she sees fit," he said.
That finding was met with some scorn by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office and caution from the Arizona Attorney General's Office because it calls for usurping the authority of elected officials. Maricopa County Attorney's Office spokesman Bill Fitzgerald said it wasn't clear at all that a statewide authority is needed.
"We believe the system is very much skewed in favor of defendants," he said. "It commonly takes 20 years or more for murderers to be executed for their crimes, due to numerous appeals and other issues. We think the system has a number of areas that should be reviewed and that the system certainly isn't shortchanging defendants and their rights."
He said the office had declined to participate in the ABA study "because the ABA is on record calling for a halt to all executions in America."
The office soon would issue its own report on the topic, he said.
The new report was part of the ABA's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project. The ABA in 1997, called for a moratorium on the death penalty. The organization said inconsistencies nationwide in many aspects of charging capital cases made the system manifestly unjust.
Deborah Fleischaker directs ABA death penalty studies and said similar projects are going on in eight other states. "We asked the Arizona team to look at the state's system and note concerns. We did not require them to make a conclusion about whether there should be a moratorium on the death penalty; they chose not to," Fleischaker said.
"We wanted them to determine if Arizona's system is fair and accurate. Then the onus is on Arizona to improve that system."
She said the studies are being funded by the EU as a result of the 1999 Arizona execution of two German-born brothers, Karl and Walter LaGrand. The two were convicted of the 1982 murder in Marana of a bank manager. The International Court of Justice, which has no power to enforce rulings, had nonetheless ruled to stop the executions.
"The European Union gave us about $1.3 million for these studies as a result of the outrage over the LaGrand executions," Fleischaker said. "They view the death penalty as one of the major human rights issues of our time."
Between 1963 and 1991, there were no executions in Arizona because of legal challenges.
Team member and Phoenix attorney Larry Hammond said one of the most significant threats to the rights of Arizona defendants is the county-to-county differences in the way justice is, or isn't, delivered.
"It's beyond question that whether the death penalty is sought will depend on where charges are sought," Hammond said. "We clearly need a statewide authority here."
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said that while he agreed with some recommendations of the report, he was more cautious about infringing upon the authority of county attorneys.
"The county attorneys are elected specifically to make that kind of (capital case) decision," Goddard said. "This is a very serious matter, one of constitutional import.
"Still, if one county is charging many crimes as a capital offenses and another is charging very few, you may have a disproportionality of capital offenses. Perhaps there could be a (state) review; but you would not want a usurpation by any group."
Hammond and Fleischaker said it is the hope of the ABA and the study team that state officials will use the report to improve Arizona's capital cases system.
"The governor, the attorney general, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Superior Court justices, legislators, the Board of Executive Clemency, all will see this report," Hammond said.
"We are seeing that it goes to the decision makers who can move this question forward."
Post by SoulTrainOz on Jul 21, 2006 1:33:46 GMT -5
Napolitano opposes death penalty change
Governor Napolitano says she's against a proposal to require that the state make the final decision on whether prosecutors can seek the death penalty in individual cases.
An American Bar Association panel earlier this week recommended that change on grounds that capital punishment should be administered uniformly.
According to the A-B-A panel, the current system means one defendant in one county could face a possible death sentence while another defendant in a similar case in another county might not.
Napolitano, who served as state attorney general before being elected governor, says the proposed change isn't necessary. She says the system has many safeguards and that county attorneys don't lightly decide whether to seek a death sentence.
Post by SoulTrainOz on Jul 22, 2006 7:05:30 GMT -5
States death penalty must be applied fairly across counties, races
We wouldnt blame anyone who reads with skepticism a new report from the American Bar Association that criticizes Arizonas handling of the ultimate criminal punishment the death penalty.
The ABA has been lobbying since 1997 to suspend all death penalty sentences until various states adopt reforms advocated by the nations largest association of lawyers. Many of these reforms seek to expand state bureaucracies or create new ones. The ABAs report on Arizona alone calls for a statewide committee to review all new death penalty cases, a new state public defenders office to represent suspects and a separate agency to oversee crime testing laboratories.
Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas was concerned enough about potential bias that he declined to work with the ABAs panel of Arizona legal experts. and is said to be preparing his own report.
Arizona already has a de facto moratorium on executions, since none have been held in nearly six years. But the ABA has raised some fundamental questions state leaders can no longer ignore if we honestly care about fair and equal justice. The truth is the death penalty is applied unevenly from county to county and varies greatly between races.
Another commission appointed by Gov. Janet Napolitano when she was attorney general reached essentially the same conclusion in 2003: the likelihood of a conviction leading to a death sentence depends on where the crime was committed and whether the victim was white, black or Hispanic.
These flaws dont mean Arizona has to abandon the death penalty. Its quite possible that many convicts who receive life sentences or lengthy prison terms deserve to be executed. But we must demand the state exact this punishment in a consistent manner, and not in a haphazard approach that changes with a shift in local political winds.
We already have a body that would be ideal for establishing some enforceable standards. The Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys Advisory Council is made up of the 15 county attorneys, the attorney general, four city prosecutors, the dean of the Arizona State University College of Law and the director of the administrative office of the Arizona Supreme Court. This group should work with the Legislature to reduce disparities between counties.
And the Arizona Supreme Court needs to seriously study judicial and legal reforms that could diminish differences in sentences based on race.