Maricopa County Attorney Fights Hobbs On Death Penalty Decision

March 16, 2023

By Daniel Stefanski |

The Maricopa County Attorney would like a word with the Arizona Governor after her decision to disregard the execution order for a condemned man on the state’s death row.

This week, Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell filed a writ of mandamus with the Arizona Supreme Court to “ensure Governor Katie Hobbs and Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry (ADCRR) director Ryan Thornell adhere to their oaths of office to enforce the death penalty and comply with victims’ constitutional and statutory rights.” The question presented before the state’s high court is whether the Governor and ADCRR Director “are threatening to proceed without legal authority and failing to perform a duty – the lawful execution of Aaron Brian Gunches on April 6, 2023 – as required by law.”

After filing the amicus with the court, Mitchell released the following statement: “As County Attorney, I took an oath to uphold the US Constitution and the constitution and laws of the State of Arizona. These recognize that both the victim and the accused have rights. Our brief recognizes and supports the right of victims to a “prompt and final conclusion of the case.” It also gives the defendant notice of the recent US Supreme Court decision, even though we do not believe it applies in his case. What is not at issue is what the sentence is for his crime.”

The Maricopa County Attorney’s action follows Democrat Governor Hobbs’ earlier announcement that she would not be fulfilling the execution date for Gunches after the Arizona Supreme Court issued an execution warrant for April 6, 2023. The Gunches saga predates to the previous Ducey-Brnovich administrations, which came to an end on January 2, 2023. Former Attorney General Mark Brnovich had requested the warrant of execution for Gunches in December 2022.

In Mitchell’s filing before the court, she highlights a 1915 response from the same judicial body to a warden “who refused to comply with, and carry out, the order and directors of this Court to execute the sentence of death” in State ex rel. Jones v. Sims. The Court wrote: “Of course, it must be understood that men’s opinions and wishes cannot be substituted and made to take the place of the law; that this is a government of laws, and not of men, and that those persons whom the people have chosen to execute the laws must do so, however disagreeable or repugnant to their wishes it may be. It is not a jealousy of our processes that calls forth this expression, but [jealousy] of the law as it exists. The people and their representatives make the laws, and their observation and enforcement is the only sure test of loyalty and certain guaranty of the perpetuity of our government.”

Mitchell argues that “the Governor is bound by the Constitution and statutes to carry out executions after this court issues a warrant,” that “the Arizona Constitution limits the Governor’s exercise of Executive Clemency power,” and that “Governor Hobbs’s unilateral decision to grant a de facto reprieve violates the victim’s constitutional right to a prompt and final conclusion.”

Governor Hobbs’ decision to unilaterally cancel the court-ordered execution of Gunches coincides with her installation of a Death Penalty Independent Review Commissioner to review and provide “transparency into the ADCRR lethal injection drug and gas chamber chemical procurement process, execution protocols, and staffing considerations including training experience.” The Maricopa County Attorney’s brief contends that “this Court further found that Governor Hobbs’ Commissioner review, by itself, ‘does not demonstrate the State’s inability to lawfully carry out the execution.’”

Earlier this month, Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen expressed extreme displeasure with Governor Hobbs’ controversial decision to withhold justice in this case. Petersen provided the following quote to AZ Free News when asked for a reaction to Maricopa County Attorney Mitchell’s recent filing in court: “I applaud the County Attorney for supporting justice and victims. The Senate and House will be writing an Amicus brief in favor of justice as well. It is disturbing to see that our current Governor and Attorney General are unwilling to enforce the law and siding with the most vile individuals of society.”

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

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