Arizona voters will likely be able to weigh in on a controversial criminal justice reform measure when they go to the polls in November. Backers of the proposed ballot initiative reported recently that they had gathered almost 400,000 signatures from Arizonans who support the measure. They only needed 237,645 signatures to meet ballot requirements. The proposal has garnered support from politicians and advocacy groups from both ends of the political spectrum, but it is opposed by many prosecutors. This could be because the proposal would eliminate the practice of “stacking” charges, which allows criminal defendants to be sentenced as repeat offenders even if they have no prior convictions.
Judges would have more discretion
While the proposed ballot measure would leave minimum and maximum mandatory penalties in place, it would give judges more discretion when defendants are convicted of committing certain nonviolent offenses. In these situations, judges could suspend sentences or place offenders on probation instead of sending them to prison. Judges would also be permitted to consult with experts and hear from the victim and members of the victim’s family before deciding on an appropriate sentence.
The Second Chances, Rehabilitation and Public Safety Act would also allow inmates who were convicted of nonviolent offenses to be released after serving half of their sentences. Nonviolent inmates are currently not eligible for parole until they have served 85% of their sentences.
Opponents say the measure will do more harm than good
Arizona’s sentencing laws were put into place in 1978 and then toughened further in 1993. These laws were passed to eliminate judicial bias and ensure that violent offenders are punished appropriately. Opponents of the measure say that its approval would lead to the same kind of sentencing disparities that prompted lawmakers to impose minimum and maximum sentences in the first place.
Plea bargains mitigate sentencing risks
Most of the time, the sentences handed down by judges were negotiated by prosecutors and defense attorneys during plea discussions. If you are accused of committing a serious offense and the maximum penalty you could face is severe, an experienced criminal law attorney may seek to obtain a more favorable outcome for you by pointing out mitigating factors and reminding prosecutors about the unpredictability of juries.