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Arizona House Approves Restriction On 'Serial Offender' Designation

By Claire Caulfield
Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services
Published: Friday, May 10, 2019 - 8:40am
Updated: Friday, May 10, 2019 - 9:29am

The Arizona House approved a measure Thursday limiting the ability of prosecutors to charge criminal defendants as serial offenders.

Arizona law allows enhanced sentences for those who are repeat offenders, and this bill wouldn’t change that, but it would restrict the use of the “serial” designation to those who have already been tried and convicted for that crime.

Senate Bill 1334 passed on a 42-16 vote and now goes to the Senate.

Amelia Cramer, the chief deputy to Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, complained that the change will mean people who commit multiple crimes over a short period of time could end up with the same prison term as a first-time offender.

And Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk said the result will "create a perverse result in the law.''

"A person who burglarizes 10 homes before the crimes are connected and they are caught will be sentenced as a first-time offender for each burglary,'' she wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

But Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, said the objections from prosecutors are "technically correct but definitely misleading.''

He said he doesn’t want prosecutors needlessly threatening longer prison terms to get plea deals.

"This is used as a big hammer by the prosecutors to ensure that people go away for a long time or that they take a plea bargain,” he said. "This is about leverage.''

Toma said he's not buying the argument that an enhanced penalty is appropriate for every multiple offender.

"I think that there is a significant difference between someone that has been caught, sentenced, did their time and then chose to do a similar crime again, versus someone who's been caught the very first time and punished for every one of those crimes, potentially, but then done time and then chose not to do it again,'' Toma said.