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Interim Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell explains sentencing policy changes

Maricopa County’s interim top prosecutor recently moved to require prison time in plea offers made to people accused of using a gun while committing a felony.

Rachel Mitchell did so by taking discretion away from lower level prosecutors and giving it to her most experienced lawyers.

Maricopa County generally embraces its law and order reputation. So why weren’t people who use guns while committing felonies already required to do prison time?

Mitchell said the old policy was that prison time was presumed in any plea offer, but line prosecutors had discretion on whether to cut it from a final agreement.  

“And what I have done is I’ve elevated any deviations, which makes it much less likely that they will deviate from it, to a senior management decision,” she said.

It’s also generally illegal for people with past felony convictions to own guns.

Having a firearm without having had one’s civil rights restored is a crime that can bring a penalty of probation.

But Mitchell recently made another policy change to block prohibited possessors from avoiding prison.

“Certainly a potential that could have been a plea agreement that allowed that so I put a stop to that,” she said

The Republican Mitchell will face Democrat Julie Gunnigle in November for the chance to serve as Maricopa County attorney through 2024.

The issues page on Gunnigle’s campaign website does not mention guns or gun violence.

Matthew Casey has won Edward R. Murrow awards for hard news and sports reporting since he joined KJZZ as a senior field correspondent in 2015.