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    Christopher B. Dupont
     Trautman Dupont PLC 
     PO Box 431
     Phoenix, AZ, 85001

     Phone: (602) 770-8942

    Christopher R. Trautman
     Trautman Dupont PLC
     6858 N. 85th Street
     Scottsdale, AZ  85250

     Phone: (602) 670-0073



Thomas' power in capital cases shows flaw in system 

Christopher B. Dupont

My Turn

Jan. 26, 2007 12:00 AM 

The suggestion by Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas that defense attorneys are responsible for the staggering number of capital cases in Maricopa County is nothing more than political rhetoric designed to divert attention from his own role in turning us away from mainstream society ("County faces 'avalanche' of capital cases," Republic, Friday).

To the point: there were 111 death sentences in the entire United States last year; right now, there are more than 130 death allegations pending in Maricopa County. Thomas alone decides which cases to file, and he files death in nearly half of all first-degree murders. 

The discrepancy between Maricopa County and the rest of the country illuminates the fundamental flaw in a system that allows a single person to decide when to seek the death penalty. The influences of political ambition, a desire to refer paying cases to his political allies, and a skewed sense of justice are all reasons that many propose death decisions be made not by a single person but by a statewide prosecutorial commission. 

Thomas' extreme position has taxed an otherwise efficient and industrious judicial system past its limit. 

Despite the political and administrative pressure on defense attorneys to represent more and more people, we have a legal and moral obligation to, under American Bar Association guidelines, "provide each client with high-quality legal representation." The Judicial Conference of the United States estimates that an attorney must spend an average of 1,889 hours to defend one capital case. There are only 2,080 work hours per year. 

Thomas, who has never tried any felony case to a jury let alone a capital case, has no basis to accuse anyone of practicing law in a "leisurely" way. Most capital defense attorneys have dedicated their lives to this unpopular yet necessary task at great personal sacrifice and expense. Because of Thomas, we now face a situation in which there are not enough defense attorneys in the entire state to represent those accused in a single county.

Defense attorneys did not create the problem identified in The Republic's article; it was created by a system that permits Thomas alone to decide whom the county will try to execute. The solution to this problem is not to place a greater burden on defense attorneys - that's how innocent people get convicted. The solution is not to call names and cast aspersions - that diverts attention from the true source of the problem. The solution to this problem is to take away Thomas' ability to unilaterally decide which cases are filed as a death penalty case.

The writer is president of the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice. He lives in Phoenix.