Final Remarks County Attorney Andrew Thomas April 5, 2010
As I leave the County Attorney’s Office, I have reflected on some of the key issues and problems inour community that our office has sought to address. The motto of this office, “Let Justice Be Done,” captures fundamentally what we are about. As a prosecutor’s office, we seek justice for the victims of crime and the community. A crucial part of that mission is seeking to ensure public safety and to uphold the rule of law.
In pursuing these goals as County Attorney, I have focused on four major areas of reform. It is my hope that future leaders of this great office will preserve and build on these hard-won successes.
1. Crime Reduction.The substantial drop in crime rates in Maricopa County is largely the result of this office’s tough prosecution policies. Because of these reforms, the incarceration rate has gone up 29 percent.It is no coincidence that during this same time, the crime rate has plummeted 19 percent.
Powerful special interests and others opposed these changes. Yet these reforms have been central to the success we’ve enjoyed in the fight against crime. They must be retained.
• Plead-to-the-Lead.Through this policy, I ended plea bargaining as we know it for serious violent crimes.Criminal defendants charged with these offenses must plead guilty to the highest charge and accept the punishment that comes with it, or go to trial and take their chances with a jury of their peers. As a result, the worst of the worst are locked up for a very long time. This outcome serves the interests of justice and public safety.
• Sex offenders.Our office has imposed the toughest prosecution policy in the nation for child molesters.For those cases in which we have rock-solid evidence of guilt (DNA, confession, etc.), the minimum plea offer to these defendants is 35 years in prison. This policy metes out proper punishment to these predators and prevents the recycling of serious sex offenders back into our neighborhoods.
• Repeat offenders.Under this office’s repeat-offender policy, any defendant who has a prior allegeable felony conviction (except for drug offenders) must go to prison.This policy change drove the sharp upturn in the incarceration rate. It has sent thousands of additional felons from the streets of Maricopa County to the Arizona prison system. More than any other action taken during the past five years, this policy is, in my opinion, the primary reason why our crime rate has dropped so dramatically. Taking thousands of career criminals off the streets and putting them behind bars contributes powerfully to public safety. More time does mean less crime.
2. Illegal Immigration.I ran for County Attorney in 2004 on a platform of stopping illegal immigration. Toward that end, we have instituted new policies and programs to deal with our border crisis. Now that the population of illegal immigrants in Arizona is finally falling dramatically, we cannot afford to lose this focus.
• Human smuggling.We must continue to prosecute both smugglers and illegal immigrants who conspire to be smuggled illegally into Arizona. This is not just our office’s interpretation of Arizona’s human-smuggling law. It is the law, plain and simple, according to the Arizona Court of Appeals. There is no excuse for failing to enforce it fully.
• Employer sanctions.In the wake of workplace raids by the Sheriff’s Office, we have prosecuted numerous illegal immigrants and, in some cases, their employers or managers for forgery and identity theft. Most recently, we have started to file and prosecute civil cases to suspend or revoke business licenses under the Legal Arizona Workers Act. There must be no retreat from this program.
• Legislative efforts.Working with allies at the legislature, our office has helped write many of the key state laws targeting illegal immigration.These include the human-smuggling law, Proposition 100 (which ended the right to bail for illegal immigrants accused of serious felonies), and the employer-sanctions law. This office should remain active at the legislature by providing assistance and advocacy in the drafting and strengthening of Arizona’s immigration laws.
3. Death Penalty Cases and Violent Criminals.Those offenders who heinously take the lives of other human beings deserve to feel the hard steel of the law. I’ve been criticized for seeking the death penalty too frequently. However, I firmly believe juries must be able to consider imposing this punishment when necessary for justice and public safety. Prosecutors must not flinch from requesting it in appropriate cases. The community deserves to know we will continue to assign our best prosecutors to these major cases.
We’ve enjoyed success in the Serial Shooters cases, for example, in large part because of this commitment. Likewise, the so-called Baseline Killer is behind bars for the rest of his life because we match up our top prosecutors with such serious cases. The Chandler rapist is the latest predator to join such offenders in a lifetime of incarceration.
4. Community Crime Prevention Efforts.Our office has done more than simply prosecute criminals. We’ve also pioneered innovative programs that seek to prevent crime and protect the community in new ways. Our anti-drug programs and presentations are a staple at schools across the county. Our website,www.drugfreeaz.com, is one of the most visited websites in Arizona for citizens seeking information about preventing or ending drug abuse.
Other programs initiated by our office have tackled such issues as graffiti, cruelty to animals, the West Nile Virus, and food safety. Most recently, our office spearheaded an effort to clean up and protect the Tres Rios Wildlife Area in the West Valley. I believe this office should continue to be proactive in addressing the various needs of the community.
I have outlined these policies and successes so that the community might consider using them as a ready and proper measurement for evaluating the performance of this office in the future. Also, I believe this office must not shy away from taking on the tough cases, including those involving public corruption. Citizens are entitled to honest government. Unfortunately, it is now clear reforms are needed to ensure that prosecutors can pursue these matters more effectively.
Many others have made these gains possible. The police agencies in Maricopa County are to be commended for conducting high-quality investigations that allow our prosecutors to file strong cases in court. I also owe special thanks to the men and women of this office who have been working on very high case loads, with steadily declining resources and staffing. They do not always receive the public credit they are due, and so I take this opportunity to tip my hat to them. They have my enduring gratitude and respect.
The people of this county have honored me with their trust in electing me to this office, and then returning me again in a subsequent election. Now I return to them, to join the ranks of citizens, as I seek another opportunity to serve in elective office. Democracy is at its best in such times, when it requires its public servants to remember where they’re from. Indeed I do, and so I depart, knowing this community is safer and better now for the efforts that have been made.