Phoenix prosecutor Andrew Thomas unveiled sweeping proposals that he says will speed up death penalty cases, which take years to crawl through the legal system, reports the Arizona Republic. Arizona hasn’t executed anyone since 2000 and there is a backlog of 118 capital cases in Maricopa County. That’s unacceptable, says Thomas, citing a report compiled by his office that blamed delays on “stalling tactics by defense attorneys coupled with failure by the courts to enforce rules and deadlines.” He said, “The length of time that it takes to carry out a death penalty sentence is an injustice to the victims and their family.”
In Arizona, Thomas says it takes an average of 19 years from the date of a homicide for a killer to be executed. Thomas acknowledged his figure includes the time it takes to arrest and indict a suspect, which are out of the court’s control. Thomas wants to chip away at the backlog by designating a five-judge panel that would hear only death penalty cases. He plans to ask for legislation in January that would require the chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court to review continuances in death sentence cases. Thomas wants to rein in defense attorneys’ ability to interview witnesses or probe some issues after the death sentence. The proposals got an icy reception from defense attorneys and judges who said that Thomas gave a simplistic view of complex cases. Several said that fast-tracking capital cases could lead to sloppy mistakes and more reversed death sentences, which also delay cases.