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Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne Sues Feds over Delays in Capital Cases

Horne Stresses Need to Spare Victims’ Families Unnecessary Delay in Seeing Sentences Carried Out

Phoenix, AZ (Monday, August 12, 2013) – Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne is today announcing a law suit against the Federal Justice Department for undue delay in handling Arizona’s request for acceleration status in the processing of capital punishment appeals, through the federal process known as Habeas Corpus. Arizona amended its capital case procedures years ago to meet Congress’s requirements for accelerated status, but the Justice Department’s failure to act has deprived the State of the benefits Congress intended in the form of streamlined procedures.

Statistics indicate that the average delay between verdict and execution in capital cases in the Ninth Circuit (The Federal Court of Appeals that covers Arizona) is an average of 18 years. Acceleration status would require that the Federal District Court act within 450 days, and the Court of Appeals act within 120 days of the filing of the last reply brief. This could shave approximately 10 years off the delay.   

Horne stated: “Only the most brutal murders result in a judgment of capital punishment and studies show that the families of victims suffer what equates to post traumatic stress syndrome. If families are able to see justice done in a reasonable time, it helps with recovery and provides closure. If they are victimized a second time by undue delays in the federal system, it only adds to their pain and suffering. The system must be reformed so that families of victims can see justice done in a reasonable period of time.”

Congress, recognizing this problem, passed an act providing that states that passed certain requirements could have an accelerated system for Habeas Corpus.  Arizona met those requirements.  The Bush Administration adopted rules under that Act.  The Obama Administration cancelled those rules, saying it would adopt its own.  Four and a half years have passed and still those rules have not been adopted.  

Horne continued: “The United States fought and won World War II in a shorter period of time than the Obama Administration is taking with these rules. Waiting for the Administration is like the play ‘Waiting for Godot’: all you do is wait and Godot never appears. After waiting four and a half years, I wrote a letter to the Justice Department saying if they did not adopt rules, or approve Arizona without the rules, within 90 days, we would file a law suit. The 90 days have passed without action and we have proceeded as planned.”

Attorney General Horne is filing a notice of appeal to commence suit in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit today, where Arizona will seek judicial review of the Justice Department’s failure to act.   

A copy of letters exchanged between Attorney General Tom Horne and the U.S. Department of Justice are attached.