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June 01, 2009

Jurisdiciton in Need: Arizona

With approximately 140 death penalty cases pending at the trial court in Maricopa County (Phoenix), Arizona, increased pressure for death penalty cases to proceed quickly to trial, and significant budget cuts at the Office of State Capital Post Conviction Public Defender, the capital defense system in Arizona is experiencing an unprecedented crisis. 

The number of capital cases in Maricopa County is significantly higher than in any other county in Arizona and in many other more populous counties in the United States (including Harris County (Houston), Texas).  A key reason for this is the County Attorney’s decision to seek the death penalty in nearly half of all first-degree murder cases.  Not surprisingly, the existence of  so many pending capital cases has strained the criminal justice system in Arizona beyond its limits.  There are not enough qualified defense counsel to handle capital cases.  Similarly, the state faces a shortage of qualified mitigation specialists to perform essential work in the pending cases.

The situation for death-sentenced inmates pursuing post-conviction relief in Arizona state court is similarly dire.  As a result of recent budget cuts, the Office of State Capital Post Conviction Defender was forced to reduce staff and salaries and to eliminate all funding for training.  Capital defense counsel in Arizona are citing the ABA Guidelines in court motions to justify their refusal to take additional cases or to proceed with their existing cases more quickly.

The Project seeks volunteer attorneys to represent death-sentenced prisoners in Arizona.  For more information, please contact us.