PHOENIX — State laws that deny bail to people solely because they're accused of having sex with a minor are unconstitutional, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled today.
The justices acknowledged arguments by prosecutors that trial judges have the right to keep certain people behind bars while awaiting trial as a method of protecting the public. And they said that the crime of sexual conduct with a minor is a series charge.
But Justice Clint Bolick, writing for the unanimous court, said the seriousness of the charge, by itself, is insufficient to result in automatic denial of release. He said prosecutors have to prove that a defendant poses a specific threat and that there are no conditions that can be imposed that allow that person's release and protect the public.
Today's ruling comes despite arguments by prosecutors that the justices should honor the will of voters who approved state constitutional provisions in 2002 limiting access to bail.
"The people of Arizona determined that sexual conduct with a minor is an acute problem and that pretrial detention for those accused of that crime was in the best interest of the community,'' said Deputy Maricopa Attorney David Cole.