Arizona

Arizona

Supreme Court Ruling Expands Opportunities for Federal Review of Ineffective Assistance Claims

On May 28, 2013, the Court ruled (5-4) in Trevino v. Thaler that death row inmates in Texas can raise claims of ineffectiveness of counsel for the first time in federal court if they did not have a meaningful chance to raise the claim in state appeals. The Court held that its ruling in Martinez v. Ryan (2012), which provided such a right in an Arizona case where state law forbids raising the claim in one's direct appeal, applies in Texas because the “state procedural framework, by reason of its design and operation, makes it highly unlikely in a typical case that a defendant will have a meaningful opportunity to raise a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel on direct appeal.” In Martinez v. Ryan, the Supreme Court ruled that “procedural default will not bar a federal habeas court from hearing a substantial claim of ineffective assistance at trial if, in the initial-review collateral proceeding, there was no counsel or counsel in that proceeding was ineffective.”

SENTENCING: Foreman in Arias Trial Says Death Sentencing Deliberations are Unfair to Jurors

William Zervakos, jury foreman for the Jodi Arias trial, recently shared the challenges of being a part of a capital jury. Zervakos described jury deliberations in Arias's case as a “brutal no-win situation” that was “unfair.” He said that the deliberations were full of tears as each juror considered whether they should sentence Jodi Arias to death or life in prison. He said, “We're not lawyers. We can't interpret the law. We're mere mortals. And I will tell you I've never felt more mere as a mortal than I felt for the last five months.” On May 8, the jury convicted Arias of first-degree murder but they could not reach a decision on her sentence after 13 hours of deliberations. The judge was forced to declare a mistrial of the penalty phase and dismissed the jury. If the prosecutors decide to seek the death penalty again, jury selection could take several months given the difficulty of finding jurors who would be impartial in a case that has garnered significant media attention. A retrial date has been tentatively set for July 18.

ARBITRARINESS: Death Penalty Does Not Fall on Worst Offenders

In cases with multiple defendants, the "worst" offender does not always receive the worst punishment. For example, in Arizona, Patrick Bearup (pictured) was the only one among four co-defendants to receive the death penalty, even though he was not directly involved in killing the victim. The other three defendants, one of whom instigated the offense, another of whom beat the victim with a baseball bat, and a third who shot the victim, were able to secure plea bargains, avoiding trial. Two of them are likely to be released within 15 years. According to Dale Baich of the federal public defender's office in Arizona, of the six inmates executed there in 2012, four were equally or less culpable than their co-defendants, and 3 of those 4 co-defendants have already been released. A judge who reveiwed Bearup's case, criticized the prosecutor for pursuing the death penalty against a man who “even under the state’s theory, did not cause the physical death” of the  victim. The judge nevertheless upheld the death sentence. In another Arizona county, the prosecutor announced the county could only afford one death penalty case at a time, thereby ending a capital prosecution in an egregious murder, while pursuing it in a comparable case. Christopher Dupont, a lawyer in Arizona said, “Do people who commit equally heinous crimes get the same results? The answer is unquestionably no. It’s a total mystery who is going to face the death penalty and who is not.”

MULTIMEDIA: "One For Ten" Introduces Documentaries on Death Row Exonerees

One For Ten is a new collection of documentary films telling the stories of innocent people who were on death row in the U.S. The first film of the series is on Ray Krone, one of the 142 people who have been exonerated and freed from death row since 1973. Krone was released from Arizona’s death row in 2002 after DNA testing showed he did not commit the murder for which he was sentenced to death 10 years earlier. Krone was convicted based largely on circumstantial evidence and bite-mark evidence, alleging his teeth matched marks on the victim. The film is narrated by Danny Glover.  All the films will be free and may be shared under a Creative Commons license.

Supreme Court Allows Death Penalty Review to Proceed Even Without Competent Defendant

On January 8, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected indefinite delays in the federal review of death penalty cases when inmates are mentally incompetent to assist their attorneys. Writing for the Court, Justice Clarence Thomas said such appeals are usually based on established facts, not requiring further input from the defendant. “Given the backward-looking, record-based nature of most federal habeas proceedings, counsel can generally provide effective representation to a habeas petitioner regardless of the petitioner’s competence,” he said. “Attorneys are quite capable of reviewing the state-court record, identifying legal errors, and marshaling relevant arguments, even without their clients’ assistance.” The opinion consolidated the cases of Ryan v. Gonzales (Arizona) and Tibbals v. Carter (Ohio). In Carter's case, the Court left open the window for a temporary stay if his appeals rely on evidence outside the court record and if he might regain competence. “If a district court concludes that [Carter’s] claim could substantially benefit from the petitioner’s assistance, the district court should take into account the likelihood that the petitioner will regain competence in the foreseeable future,” Thomas wrote. “Where there is no reasonable hope of competence, a stay is inappropriate and merely frustrates the state’s attempts to defend its presumptively valid judgment.”

ARBITRARINESS: Arizona Inmate to be Executed Dec. 5, Accomplice Was Released in 2011

Richard Stokley (pictured) is scheduled to be executed in Arizona on December 5 for rape and murder. Stokley's accomplice, Randy Brazeal, was released from prison in 2011, despite DNA testing showing he was likely guilty of the same crime as Stokley. In 1991, Brazeal turned himself in to authorities and claimed that Stokley had held him hostage while committing the crime. However, subsequent DNA testing revealed that Brazeal likely participated in the crime and raped one of the victims. At the time of the crime, DNA testing had only recently become possible, and authorities made a deal with Brazeal to avoid delays that would result from such testing. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. When the DNA testing was later completed, it revealed Brazeal's DNA inside one of the victims. Rod Rothrock, the detective who led the investigation, said, "It is my opinion that Mr. Brazeal is no less guilty than Mr. Stokley, and I believe that DNA test proves that."

SUPREME COURT: Justices to Consider Whether Death Penalty Appeals Can Continue When Defendant Is Incompetent

On October 9, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider cases from Arizona and Ohio questioning whether death penalty appeals can continue if the defendant is mentally incompetent. Under the Court's prior rulings in Ford v. Wainwright (1986) and in Atkins v. Virginia (2002), capital defendants cannot be executed if they are incompetent or intellectually disabled (mentally retarded). In the upcoming cases, Ryan v. Gonzalez and Tibbals v. Carter, the Court will determine whether mentally incompetent inmates are entitled to a stay of federal habeas proceedings because they cannot assist their counsel. The U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Ninth and Sixth Circuits, respectively, held that the defendants' competency was necessary, thus staying the proceedings indefinitely. The states that asked the Court to review this question asserted that the appeals should go forward, since no new information will be considered. The American Psychiatric Association submitted an amicus brief recommending "that post-conviction proceedings initiated by a capital prisoner should be suspended when a mental disorder or disability prevents the prisoner from understanding his situation or communicating with his counsel, and when such communication would be necessary to the fair adjudication of that prisoner’s legal challenges to his conviction or sentence."

EXECUTIONS: The U.S. in Mid-Year 2012

In the first half of 2012, eight states carried out 23 executions. In the same period last year, there were 25 executions in 9 states. The annual number of executions has declined significantly from its peak in 1999, when 98 people were executed. There were 43 executions in 2011.  Sixteen of this year's executions (70%) have been in the South, with nearly half in just two states - Texas and Mississippi. Seventy-eight percent (78%) of cases resulting in executions this year involved a murder with a white victim, even though generally whites are victims of murder less than 50% of the time in the U.S. Inmates executed so far this year spent an average of just over 18 years on death row prior to execution.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the average time between sentencing and execution for those executed in 2010 was 15 years, the longest period for any single year.  States have continued to alter their execution protocols due to ongoing shortages of certain execution drugs. All executions in 2012 have been by lethal injection.  This year Arizona and Idaho joined Ohio and Washington in using a one-drug lethal injection procedure.  All executions this year have used pentobarbital, a drug not used in executions prior to December 2010.

Pages