Last week, Gov. Jane Hull signed a bill into law that will require juries to determine not only a suspect's guilt or innocence, but also if the death penalty is warranted.
Prior to that, Arizona juries were responsible for the verdict; it was the trial judge's responsibility to determine whether the circumstances of the case should mean life or death for a convict.
Now, with Hull's law, it's the juror's responsibility a responsibility that we think will not only clog an already bogged-down justice system, but which also can have a negative, lasting impact on the juror.
In order to justify the death penalty in any case, proper aggravating circumstances must clearly be identified. This is often no easy task, even for an experienced judge. And there are other complicated procedural rules that can play a role in a judge's search for aggravating circumstances.
Place yourself in the jury box for a moment with a case that took place in Payson three years ago. During a passionate moment, a young man thrust a bayonet through his girlfriend's heart. The jury was facing a case where a man seemingly killed someone over a simple disagreement. He was originally charged with first-degree murder and could have faced the death penalty. But an experienced judge was able to identify mitigating circumstances and lessened his sentence.
Hull's bill has cast into doubt the sentences of 129 people on Arizona's death row. It is estimated that 30 of those inmates, who are still in the appeals process, will need to be re-sentenced. And while their death sentences will likely stand, the families of the victims will be forced to relive the terrible crimes all over again to retell their story to a jury.
All because Jane Hull signed a bill into law that never should have been signed.