Conviction rates

How many felony trials does the Pima County Attorney win? This is not the only way to measure the effectiveness of our local justice system, but it is an important one.

Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall took 220 felony cases to trial during fiscal year 2014 – 2015. Of those 220 cases,

  • 100 (45.5%) resulted in a verdict of guilty on all charges.
  • 58 (26.4%) resulted in a verdict of not guilty on all charges or all charges being dismissed.

This means that last fiscal year Ms. LaWall “won” only 45.5% of the felony cases she took to trial, meaning a jury found the defendant guilty of all charges that the County Attorney’s Office brought against them in the indictment. This conviction rate is explained in greater detail below. All of these figures are public information published by the administrative offices of the Pima County Superior Court. You can examine all of the data for the fiscal year 2014 – 2015 trials here.

Screen Shot 2017-01-02 at 3.09.39 PM.pngScreen Shot 2017-01-02 at 3.09.55 PM.png

These figures are very much at odds with Ms. LaWall’s constant assertions during her 2016 reelection campaign that her conviction rate was 91.9%, a figure proclaimed on billboards all around Tucson. It is also at odds with the “conviction rate at trial of 84.9%” that Ms. LaWall advanced. We do not know where these numbers came from – certainly not Pima County Superior Court. Nor do they come from the Arizona Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court reports that, in 2014, 350 criminal trials commenced in Pima County Superior Court. According to the Supreme Court, of those 350 trials, 72 were tried to a judge, not a jury. These 72 were not criminal trials on new charges, but simple judicial determinations as to whether a defendant had prior convictions. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office also prosecuted an undetermined number of the 278 actual trials that occured, not the Pima County Attorney alone as Ms. LaWall’s campaign advertising stated. Ms. LaWall may claim that her conviction rate is 84% based on 350 “trials,” but the Arizona Supreme Court does not agree.

It is important to be forthright and honest with the community, and to accurately inform taxpayers about how our criminal justice system really works. The last thing we need is to send more people to prison, and a 45.5% true conviction rate shows that the County Attorney is taking cases to trial that should have never gone to trial in the first place. This conviction rate is shockingly low, and demonstrates a deep-set dysfunction in the leadership of the Pima County Attorney’s office. We can either shrug off that dysfunction and continue to pay for it with millions of wasted tax dollars and hundreds of ruined lives, or we can make a change. We can choose to do better. We can pursue justice, equality, and responsibility, and remake our community into one we can be proud of.

Definitions

The list of charges that the County Attorney brings against defendants is called the “indictment.”

“Guilty on all charges” means that a jury found the defendant guilty of all felony charges that the County Attorney alleged in the indictment.

“Not guilty on all charges” means that a jury found the defendant not guilty of all felony charges that the County Attorney alleged in the indictment.

A “mixed verdict” means that a jury found the defendant guilty of some of the charges that the County Attorney alleged in the indictment, and not guilty of others.

A “lesser-included verdict” means that a jury found the defendant not guilty of at least one of the most serious charges, but guilty of at least one of the less-serious charges that the County Attorney alleged in the indictment.

A “mistrial” means either that a jury could not unanimously agree on a verdict, or that the judge ended the trial early because of a legal problem.

A “directed verdict” means that the judge ruled that the defendant was not guilty because no reasonable juror could vote to convict them based on the evidence that the prosecutor presented.

“Drug cases” are cases in which all of the charges that the County Attorney filed in the indictment were drug possession and/or drug sale charges. Some of these cases included the charge of possession – but not use – of a weapon incidental to a drug offense.