Prosecutors and defense attorneys in Arizona negotiated plea deals and judges were imposing sentences offering the possibility of eventual parole to murderers even though parole was abolished in 1993. The first problematic cases of inmates given those sentences come due in 2019.
It was an open secret in Arizona’s criminal justice system: Prosecutors and defense attorneys were negotiating plea deals and judges were imposing sentences offering the possibility of eventual parole to murderers even though parole was abolished in 1993. The first problematic cases of inmates given those sentences come due in 2019. After an Arizona Republic series brought the secret to public attention in March, state prosecutors, corrections officials and Arizona Supreme Court staff are talking about solutions, the Republic reports. One proposal would amend state law to allow parole for some murderers.
The Arizona Legislature threw out parole in 1993 while enacting a series of tough-on-crime statutes. It replaced the life-with-parole sentence with one that granted eligibility for “release” after 25 years. Both sentences were usually referred to in courthouse shorthand as “25-to-life,” and the terms “parole” and “release” are still frequently conflated during legal discussions. They are very different. The parole option granted prisoners who had served 25 years an automatic hearing in front of a parole board, which had the authority to grant freedom to those inmates it deemed were no longer a threat to society. Release requires a prisoner to file a formal petition with the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency, which can recommend a pardon or commutation of a sentence to the governor. It became a political decision rather than an evaluation of an inmate’s behavior and rehabilitation. And though the first of the life-with-chance-of-release sentences will not come due until 2019, state and federal appeals courts have already deemed the idea of release as “illusory,” and tantamount to a natural life sentence.