Ducey vetoes Toma-supported criminal sentences legislation

"prosecutors want the ability to allege multiple prior offenses — and threaten extended prison terms — essentially to squeeze defendants into taking a plea deal."

Arizona prosecutors will keep their ability to stack charges against some criminal defendants to get an enhanced sentence.

Gov. Doug Ducey on June 7 vetoed legislation which would have limited the ability of prosecutors to charge some criminal defendants as serial offenders. The governor, in a one-line letter to legislative leaders, said he is concerned about “the unintended consequences that may arise from this legislation and the affect these changes would have on victims.”

The move is a setback, not just for Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, who championed the measure, but also for various interests ranging from criminal defense attorneys to Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group financed by the Koch brothers who have pushed for criminal justice reform.

Arizona law always has allowed enhanced sentence for those who are repeat offenders.

The legislation that reached Ducey’s desk would not have changed that. But it would have spelled out that prosecutors may seek the longer sentences only for crimes for which someone actually has been tried and convicted prior to the new offense being charged.

The legislation drew sharp criticism from several county prosecutors.

Amelia Cramer, the chief deputy to Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, complained that the change would have resulted in people who commit multiple offenses over a short period of time — all before getting caught — would end up with a prison term no longer than someone who is guilty of just one offense.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk said the legislation would “create a perverse result in the law.”

Toma, in pushing the measure, called the objections “definitely misleading.”

He said prosecutors want the ability to allege multiple prior offenses — and threaten extended prison terms — essentially to squeeze defendants into taking a plea deal.

“This is about leverage,” he said.