The ACLU and the ACLU of Arizona are suing Allister Adel and her office for forcing people to plead guilty and waive their fundamental right to defend themselves in court. This is the first civil rights lawsuit of its kind, challenging coercive plea tactics that prosecutors have used virtually unchecked for decades.
In the Maricopa County Early Disposition Courts (EDC), prosecutors have an explicit policy of threatening a “substantially harsher” plea offer unless people give up their right to a trial or a preliminary hearing. This means people, including those who may be innocent, are coerced into pleading guilty before a judge even has the chance to determine if prosecutors have sufficient evidence to continue going after someone.
Just imagine if you were being held in a crowded jail ravaged by COVID, separated from your family and at risk of losing your job, and the prosecutor said you could go home today if you just admit you did it. This is how prosecutors stack the deck against you. People accused of crimes are so scared of long prison terms—even for minor charges, and even if innocent—that they have no choice but to give up their rights.
Coercive plea bargaining is the way Allister Adel and prosecutors nationwide fuel mass incarceration and racial disparities. By illegally pressuring defendants to plead out early, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) can rack up thousands of convictions without doing the work the Constitution requires. Turning over evidence is crucial to balancing out the huge power difference between the state and individuals accused of crimes. Without this evidence, MCAO’s policy forces people to plead in the dark.
It’s time for MCAO to be held accountable for the harm it causes to people accused of crimes and our communities, especially Black and Brown communities, which are over policed and disproportionately prosecuted in Maricopa County. This lawsuit will seek justice for all those harmed under the Sixth Amendment right to trial and Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. It will put a stop to MCAO’s retaliation policy, allowing for robust discovery prior to the acceptance of plea deals, plus reporting requirements to ensure that MCAO complies with its constitutional duties.