Retiring Arizona Prison Watch...

This site was originally started in July 2009 as an independent endeavor to monitor conditions in Arizona's criminal justice system, as well as offer some critical analysis of the prison industrial complex from a prison abolitionist/anarchist's perspective. It was begun in the aftermath of the death of Marcia Powell, a 48 year old AZ state prisoner who was left in an outdoor cage in the desert sun for over four hours while on a 10-minute suicide watch. That was at ASPC-Perryville, in Goodyear, AZ, in May 2009.

Marcia, a seriously mentally ill woman with a meth habit sentenced to the minimum mandatory 27 months in prison for prostitution was already deemed by society as disposable. She was therefore easily ignored by numerous prison officers as she pleaded for water and relief from the sun for four hours. She was ultimately found collapsed in her own feces, with second degree burns on her body, her organs failing, and her body exceeding the 108 degrees the thermometer would record. 16 officers and staff were disciplined for her death, but no one was ever prosecuted for her homicide. Her story is here.

Marcia's death and this blog compelled me to work for the next 5 1/2 years to document and challenge the prison industrial complex in AZ, most specifically as manifested in the Arizona Department of Corrections. I corresponded with over 1,000 prisoners in that time, as well as many of their loved ones, offering all what resources I could find for fighting the AZ DOC themselves - most regarding their health or matters of personal safety.

I also began to work with the survivors of prison violence, as I often heard from the loved ones of the dead, and learned their stories. During that time I memorialized the Ghosts of Jan Brewer - state prisoners under her regime who were lost to neglect, suicide or violence - across the city's sidewalks in large chalk murals. Some of that art is here.

In November 2014 I left Phoenix abruptly to care for my family. By early 2015 I was no longer keeping up this blog site, save occasional posts about a young prisoner in solitary confinement in Arpaio's jail, Jessie B.

I'm deeply grateful to the prisoners who educated, confided in, and encouraged me throughout the years I did this work. My life has been made all the more rich and meaningful by their engagement.

I've linked to some posts about advocating for state prisoner health and safety to the right, as well as other resources for families and friends. If you are in need of additional assistance fighting the prison industrial complex in Arizona - or if you care to offer some aid to the cause - please contact the Phoenix Anarchist Black Cross at PO Box 7241 / Tempe, AZ 85281.

until all are free -

MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)


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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Supreme Court considers Right to Effective Counsel

This case is about the right to effective counsel for all defendants, not just accused or convicted sex offenders in Arizona...


2 dozen states watch closely as Supreme Court considers Arizona sex offender’s appeal
By Max Levy / Cronkite News Service | Wednesday, October 5, 2011 | | Around the Nation

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court was asked Tuesday to consider whether an Arizona sex offender has a right to effective counsel, not only at trial but in subsequent challenges of his conviction as well.

Luis Mariano Martinez argued that he was not able to raise the claim of ineffective counsel in his post-conviction review – because the counsel he claimed was ineffective had botched the review filing.

But the attorney for the Arizona Department of Corrections said the state provided adequate legal assistance to Martinez, though no law required it to do so. He told the justices that requiring "effective counsel" for convicts in Martinez’s situation would open up an "infinite continuum of litigation" from criminals appealing their convictions with state funds.

Ineffective assistance of counsel cases are "easy to raise and difficult to litigate," said Kent Cattani, chief counsel of criminal appeals for the Arizona attorney general’s office.

Twenty-four states supported Arizona’s case on the basis that providing counsel in the appeals process is a state choice. They argued in a friend-of-the-court brief that a ruling in Martinez’s favor would "undermine the finality of state convictions" by guaranteeing an attorney for criminals in post-conviction proceedings.

The U.S. Justice Department agreed and argued in support of Arizona.

"States are permitted to draw different lines," Jeffrey B. Wall, assistant to the solicitor general, told the justices.

Wall said that a ruling for Martinez would result in significantly more appeals of original convictions. In its brief, the Justice Department said, "prisoners would have an overwhelming incentive to argue ... counsel had been ineffective," if the justices agreed with Martinez.

Martinez’s attorney, Robert Bartels, agreed that a line needs to be drawn to prevent cyclical appeals. But he said that line needs to be drawn at least one step further, so that convicted criminals like Martinez have effective counsel when they go to claim that their previous attorney was ineffective.

"It is an absurd Catch-22 to suggest that a defendant effectively defaults his ... right to effective assistance of first post-conviction counsel ... by failing to raise and litigate such claims without the assistance of counsel," Bartels wrote in a court brief.

In 2002, Martinez was charged with sexual conduct with his then 11-year-old stepdaughter. The state’s case was based largely on expert testimony and DNA evidence.

Bartels wrote that Martinez’s trial attorney failed to research "readily available and persuasive expert testimony" that would have challenged the state’s expert. That lawyer also failed to present evidence weakening the DNA claims, Bartels wrote.

Martinez was convicted on two counts of sexual conduct with a person under the age of 15 and sentenced to consecutive terms of 35 years to life in prison.

Another state-provided attorney was assigned to Martinez’s appeal. She began paperwork for post-conviction relief – the first chance for Martinez to claim his trial counsel was ineffective – but then filed a statement saying she could find no cause for such action.

Those filings were made without consulting Martinez. Though he only speaks Spanish, she sent him a letter in English notifying him that he had 45 days to submit a petition on his own for post-conviction relief.

The 45 days passed without action by Martinez. When he filed with new counsel in 2004, the Arizona court ruled that the appellate lawyer’s actions, right or wrong, invalidated Martinez’s petition and that his arguments for her ineffectiveness were not sufficient to make an exception.

Through multiple appeals, Martinez’s legal team has argued that his state-provided lawyer failed to effectively serve him in both the trial and appeal process, squandering his opportunity to petition for better representation in the process.

The Supreme Court justices Tuesday questioned both sides about a "limiting principle," the point at which the state should stop providing legal assistance to convicted criminals.

"You have to draw the line some place and the court has already drawn (it)," Justice Samuel Alito said. "Where the line stands now, it’s drawn at a different place" than where Martinez proposed.

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