Arizona Legislative Leaders Join in Legal Battle over Capital Punishment for Aaron Gunches

Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen (R-Mesa) and House Speaker Ben Toma (R-Peoria) announced they are fighting back against Gov. Katie Hobbs’s (D) opposition to executing death row inmate Aaron Gunches with an amicus brief filed to the Arizona Supreme Court.

“Governor Hobbs’ unilateral decision to defy a court order is lawless and should not be tolerated by the Judiciary,” said Toma in a statement emailed to the Arizona Sun Times. “We filed this amicus brief because the Governor is not above the law and simply cannot choose which statutes or court orders to follow. Moreover, I’m proud to stand with the victims in this case. Governor Hobbs’ actions have been a flagrant insult to the Price family, denying them of their legal rights as crime victims, and of the justice they are very much due.”

According to the brief emailed to The Sun Times by the Senate Majority Caucus, the state legislature has a vested interest in the outcome of this case because it plays a “critical role in enacting laws to carry out victims’ constitutional rights.” The lawmakers argue that victims’ rights may be at risk because Hobbs has stated she will not be seeking the execution of Gunches, despite the Arizona Supreme Court issuing a warrant for it to occur on April 6th.

Petersen and Toma argued that Hobbs’ “unilateral decision to suspend Gunches’ death sentence” clearly violates the separation of powers. They claimed that as the executive brand, Hobbs must carry out the Legislature’s declared policies. These policies include Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS) § 31-402, which states that the governor cannot act on clemency powers unless the action is based on a recommendation from the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency, which they state she has not received in this situation.

Aside from this alleged violation, the legislators also state that Hobbs’s actions contradict the victim’s bill of rights, guaranteeing a victim’s right to justice.

“To mean anything, finality and justice demands that lawful punishments be carried out,” the lawmakers argued.

Ultimately, Petersen and Toma argued that Hobbs’s actions could set a “dangerous precedent” and that the judge should side with the victim’s family in this case.

“Furthermore, the Executive Branch is clearly undermining the very foundation of separation of powers by attempting to override the statutory process adopted by the Legislature and affirmed by the Judiciary. This is a dangerous precedent to set by our newly elected Governor,” Petersen said.

As reported by The Sun Times, Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell (R) filed a similar brief Monday. Gunches is on death row for the 2002 murder of Ted Price, the ex-husband of his at-the-time girlfriend.

When Hobbs denied serving the warrant, the victim’s sister filed a petition to the higher court to require Hobbs to carry it out. Mitchell and the legislators submitted their briefs supporting the victims’ petition.

However, Hobbs’ legal team has since filed a response to the petition, arguing that she has “discretionary privileges” and therefore does not have to go through with the sentence. Moreover, she stated that the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, & Reentry is not currently capable of effectively carrying out an execution, due to a lack of staffing and access to the drugs used in a lethal injection.

Therefore, Hobbs argued that her denial of carrying out the execution is not a denial that the victims’ family deserves justice but concerns whether the state can carry out that justice properly.

The Maricopa Cocanney’s Office told The Sun Times via email that final responses for this case are due Thursday. However, it is currently unknown when the court will make a decision.

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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].




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One Thought to “Arizona Legislative Leaders Join in Legal Battle over Capital Punishment for Aaron Gunches”

  1. Merrilane Zellnerr

    Sure glad no one can accuse me of voting for this joke of a governor.