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Ducey vetoes measure to limit sentencing enhancements

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

Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday 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.

Take the case of an individual who committed three burglaries on three successive days. Current law allows prosecutors to claim the first two as prior offenses to argue for a longer prison term as a repeat offender.

Toma’s legislation would have allowed prosecutors asking a judge to designate someone a repeat offender to cite only prior burglaries for which the person already had been tried and convicted.

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.

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