What does the 2020 election mean for criminal justice in Arizona?

By: Bryan Shapiro

After the appointment of County Attorney Bill Montgomery to the Arizona Supreme Court, Maricopa County, the fourth largest county in the country, was left without an elected County Attorney. [1]. In the interim, Governor Ducey appointed Allister Adel to fill the position, but, in the 2020 election, the voters will decide who they want at the top of Maricopa’s head law enforcement agency. County Attorney Adel’s appointment will give her an inherent incumbency advantage that might allow her to win the election in the fall. [2]. However, five Democratic candidates have already announced their candidacy to unseat Adel.  With the power to decide how to prioritize the prosecution of crimes, the County Attorney is in a position to significantly impact criminal justice in Arizona.

 

With Maricopa County having an incarceration rate much higher than the national average, one major topic in this election will be criminal justice reform. [3]. In the realm of criminal justice reform, one area in which change might be most drastic is in how the next County Attorney approaches marijuana.  In Arizona, the possession of marijuana is (still) considered a felony. [4]. Former County Attorney Bill Montgomery was a strong advocate against marijuana legalization, both for recreational and medical use.[5]. Some Democratic hopefuls have already stated their intention not to prosecute individuals for marijuana use or possession. [6].  This stance on marijuana comes amid many states (including Arizona) having ballot measures to legalize marijuana in the fall. [7]. Whether the measure passes or not, how Maricopa addresses marijuana use can be a predictor of the state of our criminal justice system. If the next County Attorney continues the status quo, Arizona will continue to fill our prisons with people whose conduct would not lead them to incarceration if they were to drive a few hours in almost any direction. While currently still illegal, the next County Attorney can rethink and reshape how Maricopa deals with marijuana to hopefully create a more equitable justice system.

 

Another important topic to keep an eye on in the upcoming County Attorney election is government corruption. Corruption is an essential issue in this election as corruption affects the entire community. When there is corruption, a breakdown of trust between the government and the people they represent occurs. While County Attorney Montgomery did not leave his position amid a scandal of corruption, Montgomery did recently face criticisms of corruption for the handling of Juan Martinez. [8]. Martinez gained international recognition for his involvement in the Jodi Arias case but was later accused of sexual harassment by multiple women who worked with him. [9]. Following the public fallout from Martinez’s actions, many lawmakers criticized Bill Montgomery’s handling of the situation as corrupt. [10]. In the few months since County Attorney Adel has been in office, she has stated that she would release the internal investigation of Martinez, a move that Montgomery chose not to make. [11]. Adel might have to take a more forceful stance, however, as almost every Democrat is openly running on an anti-corruption platform with an emphasis on holding prosecutors to a higher standard. Hopefully, the focus on corruption in this election will allow the voters and candidates to address the issue in a public forum.

 

With the size of Maricopa, and the impact of the County Attorney, this election is likely to be contentious and impactful. As the campaign season moves forward, the future of Maricopa criminal justice will become more evident. For now, we wait to see how the eventful 2020 election season progresses.

 

  1. Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, About MCAO, (Feb. 7, 2020), https://www.maricopac ountyattorney.org/277/About.
  2. Center for Responsive politics, Reelection rates over the years, (Feb. 7, 2020), https://ww w.opensecrets.org/overview/reelect.php.
  3. Prison policy Initiative, Arizona Profile, (Feb. 7, 2020), https://www.prisonpolicy.org/profi les/AZ.html.
  4. R.S. §§ 13-3405
  5. Sessi Kuawabara Blanchard, Medical Marijuana Is Legal In Arizona But The State Still Prosecutes It, Filter (Feb. 7, 2020), https://filtermag.org/medical-marijuana-is-legal-in-arizona-but-this-county-attorney-still-prosecutes-patients/.
  6. Dan Kingston, 3 Maricopa County Attorney Candidates Won’t Prosecute Cannabis Cases, azmarijuana.com, (Feb. 7, 2020), https://azmarijuana.com/arizona-medical-marijuana-news/3-maricopa-county-attorney-candidates-wouldnt-prosecute-marijuana-possession/.
  7. https://apps.azsos.gov/election/2020/general/ballotmeasuretext/I-08-2020.pdf.
  8. Lauren Castle, Arizona Law makers Groups demand Bill Montgomery resign over Juan Martinez Allegations, azcentral, (Feb. 7, 2020), https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/phoenix/2019/04/12/arizona-groups-demand-bill-montgomery-resign-over-juan-martinez-sexual-harassment-allegations/3437360002.
  9. Id.
  10. Id.
  11. Lauren Castle, County Attorney willing to release Juan Martinez harassment records, azcentral (Feb. 7, 2020), https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/phoenix/2019/11/22/county-attorney-prepared-release-hundreds-pages-juan-martinez-sexual-harassment-investigation/4266560002/.

 

 

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