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Posted on: August 17, 2020

County Attorney Announces Prosecution Policies and Plea Procedures

County Attorney Allister Adel

With 90% of criminal charges ending in plea agreements, Maricopa County Prosecutors now have new policies to guide how to handle these cases, and for the first time in the history of the county attorney’s office, the new plea policies are posted online for public consumption. MaricopaCountyAttorney.org/Prosecution-Policies  

Consistent with Maricopa County Attorney Adel’s direction from her first day in office, these policies are intended to provide line prosecutors with more discretion to do the right thing for the right reasons in their cases without the need to seek approval for every decision.

“Lawyers are trained critical thinkers and I want to empower prosecutors to use that skill in assessing their cases,” stated County Attorney Adel. “Plea offers should not be based on a standard application of a series of rules or any type of “mathematical” formula.  Prosecutors must look at defendants as they are – individuals with unique backgrounds and circumstances who committed specific acts that had specific impacts on individuals or our community. The posting of these policies for public review is necessary to help ensure trust in government and the criminal justice system.”

Policy 7.1 (General Guidance, Timing of Offers, and Settlement Negotiations)

This policy provides a general overview of the entire chapter and explains the goals of plea agreements and the policies in general.  It explains the deviation process and when a pre-approved deviation is required. It also covers topics like probation, class 6 undesignated offenses, restitution, and probation tails that are applicable to most plea agreements or to many different types of cases.

It also has some guidance regarding taking steps to ensure all open cases and submittals are resolved at the time of a plea and how to handle cases where we sentence a defendant without resolving all matters and new cases come in that occurred before the crime for which the person has been sentenced.

This policy also explains expectations regarding settlement conferences and plea negotiations and the importance of conducting negotiations with an open mind to fairly consider any appropriate mitigation presented and input from the judicial officer.

Policy 7.2 (Drug Offenses)

These policies reflect the County Attorney’s “treatment first” approach to drug possession.  This policy provides guidance on drug offenses and gives specific guidance regarding expectations for resolving drug possession cases.  The policy includes separate guidance for marijuana and other types of drugs. 

Policy 7.3 (Violent Crimes and Firearms Offenses)

The policy provides guidance regarding when certain charges should be pled as charged and firearm cases that should have prison sentences, those policies are now presumptive offers which will simplify the process for deviating from this policy when appropriate.  Prior provisions requiring pleas to dangerous offenses in some situations have been removed, however, policies regarding cases where defendants use firearms against police officers did not change. 

Policy 7.4 (Repetitive Offenses)

This policy has been greatly simplified from prior versions and divided into two sections.  The first section covers drug possession cases and the second covers all other offenses.  The policy now notes that pleading with a prior conviction in a drug possession case is disfavored and should only be used as a last resort. 

The policy emphasizes that pleading with a prior conviction in a possession case should, whenever possible, only be done when the person has shown an unwillingness to engage in multiple treatment opportunities and they have demonstrated a willingness to victimize others. 

The second section, addressing non-drug possession offenses, now uses presumptive offers based on the individual’s sentencing range after trial.  Unlike the previous version, this version does not attempt to account for every variable such as whether the person was on probation or community supervision and instead includes those types of details in a list of factors that lawyers should consider in determining whether to use the presumptive offer or to make it more or less harsh. 

Prior policy requirements mandating that defendants with specified criminal histories be required to plead with two prior convictions absent division chief approval has been removed.  However, the policy does include factors a lawyer should consider when deciding if a plea with two prior convictions is appropriate in a given case.  Such an offer should be uncommon and only used when the individual’s behavior and history show little chance for rehabilitation and the individual has shown a continued willingness to victimize others.

Policy 7.5 (Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Offenses)

This policy addresses both domestic violence cases and child abuse cases.  There are several minor revisions here mostly to make the approach consistent with our overall philosophy and the other policies.  The most significant change is for Dangerous Crimes Against Children (DCAC) cases and child abuse cases where the policy previously mandated a 35-year sentence.  The policy now phrases the offer requirement in those cases as a presumptive offer of 20 years.

Policy 7.6 (Sex Offenses)

This policy covers sex offenses.  While the offers are all stated as presumptive offers, for sex offenses the case must be staffed by other prosecutors before an offer is made.  Consistent with child abuse cases noted above, the policy that previously mandated a plea to 35 years has been changed to a presumptive offer of 20 years. 

Policy 7.7 (Driving Under the Influence Offenses)

This policy covers DUI offenses, both felonies and misdemeanors.  Like the other policies, the guidance in this policy has been changed to presumptive offers with factors for lawyers to consider when deciding on an appropriate offer.  The leaving the scene provisions of the previous policy have been removed.

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