February 9, 2007
Capital craziness and costs in Arizona
This Arizona Republic article provides some details on the fall-out from an apparent move by prosecutors in Maricopa County to pursue every possible capital case:
Maricopa County's growing death-penalty crisis will be aired at an unprecedented March 2 court hearing, and key players, including County Attorney Andrew Thomas have been asked to testify. Today, Maricopa County's Presiding Criminal Judge James Keppel ordered the hearing to resolve a case that's become a showdown between prosecutors and defense attorneys over the avalanche of capital cases in the court system.
There is a shortage of qualified attorneys to represent people who face the death penalty. At last count, 12 death penalty cases don't have the lead attorney for the legally required two-attorney defense team, said Mark Kennedy, director of the Office of Contract Counsel.
There are a record 130-plus death-penalty cases pending in Maricopa County, more than in any other Arizona county. The Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court created a taskforce last month to address the issue.
The detail that I find most stunning is the fact that there is "130-plus death-penalty cases pending in Maricopa County." Let's put that number in some capital context, help by this data:
- Since Furman, Arizona has only executed 22 persons over the last three decades.
- Since Furman, no state other than Texas has executed more than 100 persons
- Last year, only roughly 115 death sentences were handed out nationwide
And yet, prosecutors in one county in Arizona believe that 130-plus persons should be facing capital charges. Wow! Considering that, just by bringing capital charges, the county prosecutors likely cost the state at least $100,000 in extra lawyer and court expenses, the Maricopa County prosecutors through its capital charging practices have, in essence, allocated an extra $10 million in tax dollars to capital punishment administration by virtue of having decided to pursue 130+, rather than just, say, 30+ capital prosecutions. Once again, Wow!