Capital Case Oversight Committee Meets To Review Arizona Death Penalty Case Load

Published: Thursday, April 18, 2019 - 8:50pm
Updated: Friday, April 19, 2019 - 2:00pm

A committee that reviews death penalty cases in Arizona met in Phoenix on Thursday to recommend future policy changes for the State Bar of Arizona and the Arizona Supreme Court.

The Capital Case Oversight Committee was established by the state Supreme Court in 2007, “to study and recommend measures to facilitate capital case reduction efforts, make recommendations for adequate notice to the Supreme Court to assist the Court in making the necessary modifications to its staffing levels and judicial assignments to ensure the timely processing of appeals, and develop recommendations for any formal policies deemed necessary,” according to the Arizona Judicial Branch website

Retired Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Ronald Reinstein chairs the committee, which is made up of various stakeholders, including judges, defense attorneys and prosecutors.

“When Andrew Thomas was the county attorney, the cases ballooned to 143 pending cases in Maricopa County,” Reinstein said. “It was taking up almost all the resources of the criminal bench in Maricopa County, so the Chief Justice formed a Capital Case Task Force.”

That task force would then create the review committee which continues to meet and provide review and guidance.

“Death is supposed to be different,” Reinstein said, “as opposed to just filing, you know, cases without considering what the ramifications are.”

The committee tracks capital case loads in each county as well as the verdicts for the cases.

Reinstein says since the committee began tracking numbers, it has found about 16 percent of death notices filed in Maricopa County resulted in the death penalty.

He believes this realization, as well as the costly nature of pursuing the death penalty, has led to an overall decline in capital cases being filed.

“Once you file that death notice is triggers the appointment of two counsel for the defense — an investigator, a paralegal, mitigation specialists, expert witnesses and the like,” he said.

“Prosecutors in particular see the results,” Reinstein said. “It causes them to really take a look as to what warrants a notice of intention to seek the death penalty.”

According to numbers presented at the meeting, there are currently 63 capital cases pending trial in Arizona.

Capital Case Oversight Committee staff attorney Mark Meltzer said the figures can be fluid and change and death notices are filed and cases are resolved.

“These figures do not include capital cases pending on appeal or for post-conviction relief in state and federal courts,” Meltzer said. “They also may not include cases in which competency determinations are pending, remands for retrial or resentencing, or death-noticed cases where the defendant has entered a plea and is pending sentencing.”

Reinstein says the next items on its agenda will be to form a work group to make recommendations to the state bar on revised jury instructions in capital cases. It also will make recommendations to the Supreme Court on judicial training in the jury selection process.



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