Death Penalty 101: The Death Penalty Charging Decision in Arizona. Is There a Better Way?

Kent E. Cattani & Paul J. McMurdie

Arizona’s procedure for determining whether to seek the death penalty—a decision by an elected County Attorney—was established when Arizona became a state in 1912. At that time, however, a decision to seek the death penalty began a process that bore little resemblance to what we have today. For example, between 1912 and 1960, in the 63 cases in which a death sentence was imposed, the average time from the date of the murder to the date of execution was less than two years. In fact, in 10 of those cases, less than a year passed between the crime and the execution.2 The current process, in contrast, often lasts more than 30 years, consuming significant resources at both the local and state level. And although the State—through the Arizona Attorney General’s Office—is now primarily responsible for handling death penalty cases (at considerable expense) throughout most of the process, the State does not have any corresponding input into the charging decision.

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