A Court's Remarkable Recovery from a Capital Case Crisis

By Gottsfield, Robert L.; Rayes, Douglas L. et al. | Judicature, March/April 2012 | Go to article overview

A Court's Remarkable Recovery from a Capital Case Crisis


Gottsfield, Robert L., Rayes, Douglas L., Starr, Patricia, Judicature


Editor's note: an earlier version of this article was published in Arizona Attorney in November, 2011.

In April and May, 2009, Arizona Attorney Magazine published, in two parts, "The Capital Case Crisis in Maricopa County: What (Little) We Can Do About It"1 Our goal in that piece was to explain the complexities of the preparation and trial of such cases, the steps required, and the participants involved, as a way to explain why capital cases take so long to try. We also discussed how they eventually resolve at the end of a long state and federal appellate and post-conviction relief process. On average, the length of time from arrest until execution of the sentence is 20 years.2

As of Aug. 31, 2008, the time frame used in the article, the capital caseload in Maricopa County Superior Court appeared dire, with few apparent options to reduce capital cases awaiting trial.3

As of July 1, 2011, almost three years later, the situation has changed drastically. This follow-up article sets forth the reasons for this turnaround and the continuing steps the court has adopted to deal with the problem of too many capital cases to try with an insufficient number of judicial officers, courtrooms,4 experienced lawyers and mitigation specialists. We believe that what we describe may be used as a model for other jurisdictions faced with a similar problem, now or in the future.

The Situation in August 2008

We made the following observations about the situation existing in Maricopa County Superior Court, where most Arizona capital cases are tried,5 as of Aug. 31, 2008:

* There were 136 active untried capital cases6 (this was one of the largest inventories of such cases in a single court in the United States).

* It was estimated that it would take the court nine years - until 2017 - to process the 136 cases if no other capital cases were ever filed.7

* Since Jan. 1, 2008, and until the date of publication in April 2009, the court had received an average of 3.4 capital cases a month to try.

* Approximately 24 capital cases per year on average were resolved in Maricopa County Superior Court, usually 8 by trial and 16 by settlement (where the notice of intent to seek the death penalty was withdrawn resulting in a plea) or otherwise.8

* The list of pending capital cases had grown over time because the rate of disposition had not kept pace with new case filings.

Built into the previous statistics and responsible in great measure for the crisis, the reader was asked to assume that:

* Capital cases take two to six months to try due to the three phases of such cases: the guilty /not guilty phase, the aggravation phase and the penalty/sentencing phase.

* With 240 work days per year, and 21 judges actually trying capital cases, the court could only try about 13 cases a year.

Since the first article:

* Experience has shown that capital cases take an average of approximately 41 days,9 including trial and pre-trial hearings; instead of each capital judge being available for capital matters 240 days per year, because of law and motion days, there are on the average 175 days available per judge per year.

* Instead of 21 judges trying the cases, the court has dedicated six judges - about 25 percent of the judges assigned to the criminal bench - to handle capital cases; although judges other than the capital trial judges still try these cases, the majority are tried by the capital judges.

* Given recent history, it is estimated that instead of 13 trials per year, if all six capital judges did nothing but try capital cases four days a week, the court could try 25 capital cases per year. (There were 20 capital cases tried in Maricopa County in 2010, more than were tried in all the United States District Courts combined during that same time period.)

The Situation in July 2011

Beyond all expectations, as of July 1, 2011, almost three years later, the situation has drastically changed:\

* There are 66 (instead of 136) capital cases awaiting trial or other disposition.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Court's Remarkable Recovery from a Capital Case Crisis
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.