Arizona has one of the most controversial sentencing policies in the nation. First-time offenders can receive multiple sentences for “repetitive offenses” that occurred within minutes of each other.
The law led to a groundswell for change and across the aisle support for a bill. However, in June, Governor Doug Ducey vetoed Senate Bill 1334, a measure that would have reformed the sentencing for time offenders in Arizona under the repeat offender law.
The bill attracted strong bipartisan support passing the Arizona House with 49 in favor and no opposition reported News Channel 13.
It was also received favorably in the Senate where it passed 27 in favor to three against.
Ducey said he vetoed the bill because it had “unintended consequences.” He did not elaborate.
Joe Watson, who spent a decade in prison as a first-time offender, supported the reform. His case highlights the harshness of Arizona’s approach to first-time offenders.
Watson said he faced a potential 214 years in prison as a first-time offender. In Arizona, charges can be stacked for first-time offenders.
He received a sentence of 12 years because he argued his case before a judge instead of settling for a plea deal that would have left him spending at least a quarter of a century incarcerated.
Watson served 10 years even though nobody was harmed and no weapon was used in his offense. He claimed Arizona’s approach to first-time offenders means many people with mental health and drug addiction problems end up incarcerated. He said:
“Like me, the overwhelming majority of people incarcerated committed their offenses because of addiction,” he said. “That’s what we have to treat, behavioral issues, mental health issues.”
He said Arizona doesn’t have a program inside the prison walls to deal with those issues and so the numbers rise along with the price tag.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, the state has the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the country. Almost 42,000 people languish in our prisons.
At the Garcia Law Firm, our attorney Bernardo Garcia is committed to fighting for the rights of defendants who suffer from mental illnesses. We are well aware of the harsh treatment of first-time offenders and will do everything in our power to keep you out of prison. Please contact us today for a consultation.