Arizona County Attorney Files Federal Lawsuit to End Race-Based DUI Courts
Cites Statistics Showing Defendants Are Treated More Harshly in Non-Race-Based Courts
PHOENIX - Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas on Tuesday announced he has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Phoenix to end Maricopa Countys separate DUI courts for Spanish-speaking and Native American DUI felons. His office also released a study which found evidence of discrimination in sentencing: Offenders in General DUI Court receive more than twice the average jail sentence that offenders receive in Hispanic DUI Court.
Maricopa Countys race-based courts are unconstitutional and must be ended, Thomas said. Our criminal justice system must be color-blind. I am obliged by my oath of office to challenge them through all lawful means until this day comes.
Thomas said that months of negotiations with the Superior Court and their legal counsel have not resulted in progress toward disbandment of the courts. As a result, he concluded he had no choice but to file suit in federal court. Michael Carvin of the law firm of Jones Day in Washington, D.C. will serve as lead counsel for the County Attorneys Office.
The lawsuit alleges that the special DUI courts established by the Maricopa County Superior Courts violate the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the First Amendment, and related federal statutes.
The County Attorneys Office also released the results of its study into the sentencing practices for defendants of the DUI courts. The study, conducted by Chief Assistant County Attorney Sally Wells, found that the average jail sanction in General DUI Court was more than twice the average jail sanction in Hispanic DUI Court. The average penalty in General DUI Court was 7 jail days, while the average penalty in Hispanic DUI Court was 3 jail days.
Thomas labeled this discrimination in its starkest form, noting that such disparate treatment, far from promoting public safety, as court administrators have