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Mandatory Prison Terms for Repetitive Offenses

Wednesday / February 18, 2015

Imagine: A drug addict has a prior conviction for drug possession. As he attempts to sell a gram of cocaine to get his next fix, he gets caught. He now faces a sentence that is almost double that of a dealer caught with a kilo of cocaine for the first time. Laura Jones, Mandatory Sentencing Laws Fuel Prison Overcrowding Crisis, Fill Prisons with non-Violent Substance Abusers, (Feb. 13, 2015), http://www.nlada.org/DMS/Documents/1093958795.28/si_sbs_arizona_press_release_5_11_04.htm. Is this fair?

 

Under Arizona law, mandatory prison terms are required for people that have been convicted of “repetitive” offenses. It does not matter if the repetitive offenses are petty or non-violent, they still count. Within the statute, there are different categories that a repeat-offender can be labeled: ranging from a category one repetitive offender to a category three repetitive offenders.   Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-703 (Feb. 13, 2015). The sentencing provisions provided in the statute “must apply when allegation of prior conviction is made by state and admitted by defendant at trial.” State v. Tarango, 182 Ariz. 246, 251, 895 P.2d 1009, 1014 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1994).

 

So how are these mandatory prison terms affecting the state of Arizona and its citizens? In the eyes of Judge Rudy Gerber, who helped create the 1978 criminal code that established mandatory sentencing, she explains, “After 25 years, the verdict is clear: Arizona’s mandatory sentencing laws do not enhance public safety and they certainly do not deliver justice…I was forced to sentence far too many people to prison when treatment, community service, and restitution to victims would have been more appropriate.” Laura Jones, Mandatory Sentencing Laws Fuel Prison Overcrowding Crisis, Fill Prisons with non-Violent Substance Abusers, (Feb. 13, 2015), http://www.nlada.org/DMS/Documents/1093958795.28/si_sbs_arizona_press_release_5_11_04.htm. As the years have accumulated, many professionals in the legal community agree that the mandatory sentencing laws put judges in an unfair position, not allowing them to use their experience discretion in sentencing matters. Moreover, the laws require even non-violent offenders to go to jail, putting the wrong people in jail and wasting valuable money on non-violent offenders. Laura Jones, Mandatory Sentencing Laws Fuel Prison Overcrowding Crisis, Fill Prisons with non-Violent Substance Abusers, (Feb. 13, 2015), http://www.nlada.org/DMS/Documents/1093958795.28/si_sbs_arizona_press_release_5_11_04.htm.

 

Naturally, mandatory prison terms clog up Arizona’s prisons. A study commissioned by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) through well-respected criminal justice researchers Judith Greene and Kevin Pranis of Justice Strategies, “Arizona Prison Crisis,” reports Arizona’s prison system as “packed with non-violent and low-level offenders, including substance abusers, disproportionate numbers of people of color and a rapidly growing population of women.” Laura Jones, Mandatory Sentencing Laws Fuel Prison Overcrowding Crisis, Fill Prisons with non-Violent Substance Abusers, (Feb. 13, 2015), http://www.nlada.org/DMS/Documents/1093958795.28/si_sbs_arizona_press_release_5_11_04.htm. The report also outlines a variety of suggestions for how to begin repairing the prison system in Arizona. For example, allow judges the power to set aside mandatory prison sentences, limit the use of mandatory sentencing to only serious offenders, direct more attention to drug courts and allowing non-violent offenders to participate in drug court as a sentencing option, etc. Laura Jones, Mandatory Sentencing Laws Fuel Prison Overcrowding Crisis, Fill Prisons with non-Violent Substance Abusers, (Feb. 13, 2015), http://www.nlada.org/DMS/Documents/1093958795.28/si_sbs_arizona_press_release_5_11_04.htm. Hopefully even more policymakers will get on board and help repair Arizona’s broken prison system.

 

If you or anyone you know has been charged with a crime, immediately seek an attorney’s help to ensure the accused’s rights are protected. To schedule a no obligation consultation with my office, visit my website at: www.criminaldefenseattorneykg.com or by calling me at 480-331-7568.

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