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Updated Jan 10, 2014 - 5:32 pm

Prosecutor: Smuggling should factor in executions

PHOENIX -- A central Arizona prosecutor said Friday he wants anyone convicted of murder with a previous human-smuggling conviction to be eligible for the death penalty.

Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles told the Arizona Capitol Times that he is pushing a proposal to have past convictions for human smuggling and assisting a human smuggling operation factor into death-sentence deliberations.

Voyles said the legislation could help deter people from smuggling people across the U.S.-Mexico border.

"If they're going to do this, they better make sure they are aware of the consequences," Voyles told The Associated Press.

According to the state's death-penalty statute, a person is only eligible for a death sentence if convicted of first-degree murder with at least one aggravating circumstance. The 14 aggravating circumstances include being previously convicted of a serious offense.

There are more than a dozen serious offenses listed in the statute, such as sexual assault, arson of an occupied structure and robbery. Voyles' plan would add the smuggling offenses to the list.

Voyles has also proposed that aggravating circumstances include a "continuing threat" or "future dangerousness." In that instance, the state would have to prove the person will almost certainly commit murder or violent acts in the future.

Dale Baich, who oversees federal public defender's office for the Arizona district that represents death-row inmates, is among those who think broadening the state's death penalty law could put it at risk of being found unconstitutional.

"An argument can be made that Arizona has expanded its eligibility requirements for the death penalty, which is inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent requiring narrow application," Baich said.

Voyles said he has already met with Republican Rep. Justin Pierce of Mesa about drafting legislation.

Democratic Rep. Martin Quezada, who serves on the state House Judiciary Committee and would likely get to vote on such legislation, said the proposal is the wrong tactic to take against human smuggling.

Smuggling is a bad crime, he said. "But making it death-penalty eligible? We don't know if this will make instances of human smuggling happen less often...It's questionable if the death penalty works as a deterrent in general," Quezada said.

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Information from: Arizona Capitol Times, http://www.arizonacapitoltimes.com

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