Arizona, Simmons, Supreme Court discussed on Bloomberg Law
This is Bloomberg law with June Grasso from Bloomberg radio. In a death penalty case, Arizona did end runs around Supreme Court precedent, creating a procedural maze that blocked a death row inmate's relief at every turn, reminding just as Elena Kagan of the works of Kafka. I think Kafka would have loved this. Cruz loses his Simmons claims on direct appeal because the Arizona courts say point blank, Simmons has never applied in Arizona. And then he loses the next time around because the Arizona court say Simmons always applied in California. I mean, tells you when, as I lose, whatever that expression is, I mean, how can you run a railroad that way? For decades, Arizona refused to follow Supreme Court precedent established in the 1994 Simmons case, which gave defendants facing the death penalty the right to tell juries that, if they spared them from the death penalty, they would never be eligible for parole. So in 2016, the Supreme Court specifically instructed Arizona to follow that law. But Arizona denied John Cruz that instruction at his trial, and then used a state procedural law to stop him from seeking reversal of his death sentence. Many of the justices seemed troubled by Arizona flouting the Supreme Court. Here's justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. Simmons made clear that this is what the law was. So many times Arizona said, we're not following it. And we had to have lynch in order to really cinch the deal. One thing I'm a little worried about is that if we rule in your favor in this case that it will be giving other states essentially a road map for defying this court's criminal law decisions. Joining me is Jordan Rubin, Bloomberg law reporter. This appeal is not about the defendant's guilt, but about his sentence. Tell us a little about the case and what happened during the penalty phase. Sure. So John Cruz was convicted in Arizona state court, a first degree murder for shooting Tucson police officer Patrick Harvey in 2003, but it was in cruise's guilt, but his sentence that prompted the issue at the Supreme Court. So at the sentencing phase, Cruz wanted the jury to know that he would have been ineligible for parole if he was sentenced to life instead of death. And that actually wound up being a really important issue because we know that the jury foreman actually later said that they are looking for a reason to be lenient, but Arizona didn't allow that at the time. And that was despite an earlier U.S. Supreme Court precedent from 1994 called Simmons, which said that defendants have the right to inform juries of their parole ineligibility in that situation when their future danger is at issue. So for decades, Arizona refuses to follow that Supreme Court rule, so then the court basically tells Arizona directly, this is the rule you have to follow it. That's right. So the Simmons case happened that the Supreme Court in 1994. Cruz was prosecuted in Arizona after that. But then there was an Arizona case that went to the Supreme Court after Cruz was sentenced called lynch against Arizona in 2016 where the U.S. Supreme Court basically told Arizona you have to apply this precedent simmonds. And so Cruz had previously raised a challenge before the linch case trying to argue that he should have been able to tell the jury about his parole ineligibility status based on Simmons, then after lynch after the U.S. Supreme Court told Arizona, you have to apply our precedent, Cruz tried again, but he was rejected again in state court, and that's what prompted this U.S. Supreme Court appeal this kind of ping ponging back and forth and cruises repeated attempts and repeated rejections to try and get the benefit of this U.S. Supreme Court precedent in the sentence case. So that's why justice Elena Kagan said Kafka would have loved this case. Exactly. So the way she put it, she says, Costco would have loved this because Cruz loses his Simmons claim on direct appeal in the first instance before the lynch case. And then he tries again and the reason he loses according to the state is because no, Simmons is actually always applied. It was just that lynch told Arizona that it had to then apply the law. So it wasn't what's called a significant change in the law, according to Arizona, and that's super important for this case because it all comes down to this state procedural rule, which says that on post conviction, like what Cruz was trying to raise. He can only get the benefit if there was a significant change in law. And according to Arizona, the lynch holding wasn't a significant change. I thought it was odd that the state was still arguing in its briefs that Simmons and lynch were wrongly decided by the court and justice Kagan told Arizona's attorney Joseph Kane field that she found that shocking and perhaps a bit insulting. In this case, you're still saying, like lynch is wrongly decided Simmons is wrongly decided we can't really we just really hate all this stuff. It sounds like your thumb and your nose at us. Justice Kagan is absolutely no disrespect was intended by that footnote to the court. And I apologize if that is the way it came across. Tell us about Arizona's arguments. So Arizona takes this sort of hyper technical reading. They're saying it's just the state issue that in the first instance, it shouldn't even get to the U.S. Supreme Court because it's a state court dealing with the state procedural rule. And so there is this kind of threshold issue at the U.S. Supreme Court of whether the justices can even really take a look at this because it's a state issue. And so there's this initial argument of whether we're even getting into the territory of dealing with the type of federal issue that the U.S. Supreme Court can grapple with. And so that's one of Arizona's arguments that the U.S.