13 February 2007

Prosecutors Gone Wild

Two recent stories I've read highlight the ability of a District Attorney in a major metropolitan area to wreck havoc on the criminal justice system by seeking extraordinary sentences at odds with customary practice elsewhere in the state.

First, from Maricopa County, Arizona:

[There are] "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.

The second is closer to home. In Arapahoe County, Colorado, the D.A. is making heavy use of habitual offender sentence enhancement options in felony prosecutions:

In 2006, the 18th Judicial District filed habitual criminal charges in 232 felony cases, far more than any other DA's office in the state. That's ten times as many . . . as Denver handled last year, and four times as many as the 18th itself filed in 2005.

Denver and Arapahoe Counties have comparable populations. Crime is probably lower in Araphoe county than it is in Denver, since Arapahoe is more affluent and suburban than Denver which is a central city.

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