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Ariz. Gov. Vetoes Death Penalty Expansion Bill

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has vetoed House Bill 2313, which would have expanded the class of murders eligible for the death penalty.

Arizona's death penalty law follows a fairly typical pattern.  Eligibility is narrowed by requirements that the perpetrator be convicted of first-degree murder plus a finding of at least one of a list of aggravating circumstances.  At present there are 14.  One of them is a prior or concurrent conviction of a "serious" offense, a list of violent offenses and burglary.

HB 2313 would have added an aggravating circumstance of, "a substantial likelihood that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that constitute a continuing threat to society."  I would advise against adopting such a subjective rule at the stage of narrowing the eligibility to be considered for the death penalty.  At this stage, the circumstances should be kept as objective as possible.  Letting the jury consider future dangerous in the discretionary decision to impose the penalty isn't as bad, although even there it is problematic.  Predictions are dicey.  Basing sentencing on objective facts produces more consistent and fair results.

The bill would also have added human smuggling to the list of "serious" offenses.  That change is less problematic than the future dangerousness one.  Even so, Arizona's law is broad enough already.  I don't really see the need to add this one.

The governor's veto letter is here, and she is correct.

Legislators who favor the death penalty should be focusing on procedural reforms to get the sentences we already have carried out.  In most states, we don't need any expansions of the scope.

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