Phoenix, Ariz.--Criminal investigations can be cleared in one of two ways: by arrest or by "exception." Clearances by exception must meet clearly defined FBI criteria in place for 80 years. In Maricopa County, Arizona, about three times as many cases that reach the Sheriff's Office are reportedly cleared by exception rather than arrest, which essentially reports unsolved crimes as solved.
A new Goldwater Institute report "Justice Denied: The Improper Clearance of Unsolved Crimes by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office," explains the FBI's criteria for clearing cases by exception and provides evidence that the MCSO improperly clears cases by exception.
"Clearing cases by exception when they do not meet the FBI's criteria creates a false impression of law-enforcement effectiveness, leaves crimes unsolved, and deprives crime victims of justice," said Clint Bolick author of the report and litigation director at the Goldwater Institute.
Abigail Brown is one of these victims. In 2001, when Brown was 14, she reported being raped at a party. Due to "technicalities" the investigator declared the case exceptionally cleared. In violation of FBI standards, MCSO considered and reported the crime as solved, while the accused went free.
"The practice of declaring unsolved crimes solved is a ticking time bomb for the people of Maricopa County," Bolick added. "It means not only that criminals remain at large, but that no one is even looking for them."
MCSO's practice of improperly clearing cases by exception presents a danger to public safety. The report makes the following recommendations to remedy the abuse:
- MCSO should clearly state its policies on clearing cases; release the results of any internal investigations concerning misuse of exceptional clearance and inadequate investigation of sexual assaults; and describe what steps it is taking or will take to conform to FBI standards for exceptional clearance and to ensure that sexual assaults and other serious crimes are fully investigated.
- The Maricopa County Attorney and Arizona Attorney General should investigate MCSO's practices regarding exceptional clearance to determine and ensure compliance with FBI standards.
- The Legislature should amend its crime reporting statutes to require the separate reporting of clearances by arrest and clearances by exception, and direct DPS to randomly audit cases cleared by exception from law-enforcement agencies around the state to ensure compliance with FBI standards.
Read "Justice Denied" online, or call (602) 462-5000 to have a copy mailed to you. All available case documents and details about the MCSO investigation into Abigail Brown's case can be found on www.victimpower.org
The Goldwater Institute is a nonprofit public policy research and litigation organization whose work is made possible by the generosity of its supporters.