State lawmakers are in the process of drafting a bill that could send murderers convicted of human smuggling to death row.
Under current state law, one of 14 aggravating factors must be met in order for the courts to pursue the death penalty in the sentencing of a convicted murderer. Human trafficking is not considered a serious offense under that state statute.
Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles wants to see the law changed.
"Smuggling is a serious offense," Voyles argues. "It needs to be recognized as a serious offense and until we do it's not a deterrent."
Human trafficking in itself carries a sentence of no greater than 21 years in prison. Voyles says if the term can be attached to the death penalty, it could reduce the crime most prevalent in Arizona.
"In this district alone, we've found 2,000 bodies in the desert that can be associated with human smuggling just over the last decade," Voyles said.
According to the Pinal County prosecutor, the penalties just are not harsh enough to deter the crime from happening and law enforcement hasn't been able to keep up.
"There's no way to show the severity of what's going on unless you're able to seek the ultimate penalty in some cases," Voyles said.
State Representative Justin Pierce is currently finalizing a bill that would add human trafficking to the list of aggravating factors when considering the death penalty. Voyles and Pierce expect the bill to be introduced later this legislative session.
Critics argue the proposed bill could put capital punishment in jeopardy. Defense attorney Dale Baich says the U.S. Supreme Court requires states to apply the death penalty to narrow categories. The requirement increases the number of aggravating factors that could unconstitutionally make almost any person guilty of murder eligible for death row.
Governor Brewer and Cindy McCain are also pushing for stricter laws to help fight the battle against human trafficking in Arizona.
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