Phoenix Prosecutor Challeges “Race-Based” DUI Courts


The chief prosecutor in Phoenix has filed a federal lawsuit to abolish what he calls “race-based” DUI Courts for Spanish speakers and Native Americans, says the Arizona Republic. aricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas charges that defendants in a Spanish-language program who violate the terms of their probation consistently get shorter jail sentences than defendants in the general population. “This is discrimination in its starkest form,” he said. “Far from promoting public safety, as court administrators have alleged, such disparate treatment endangers the public by systematically offering lighter punishment to selected defendants.”

Thomas asked that the Spanish-language and Native American courts be judged unconstitutional and be discontinued. Although called “courts,” the DUI Courts are actually probation programs for defendants who have been convicted of felony DUIs – most DUIs are misdemeanors – and have spent four months in prison. Thomas’ staff produced a study purporting to show that probation violators in the Spanish-language program are sentenced to an average of three days in jail, while violators in the general population program are sentenced to seven. Thomas alleged that the “race-based” courts violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because they deny due process and equal protection under the law. The Spanish-language court also violates the First Amendment, he said, because the general public and press are not afforded adequate translation into English.


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