Pro Bono Effort Urges U.S. Supreme Court to Review Arizona Death Penalty Case

January.06.2022

An Orrick appellate team today filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of leading habeas scholars urging the justices to take up a case challenging the Arizona Supreme Court’s refusal to hear a set of constitutional challenges to death penalty sentencing procedures.

The brief argues that the Arizona Supreme Court continues to defy long-standing U.S. Supreme Court precedent holding that jurors in certain capital cases must be informed when capital defendants would not be eligible for parole — even after a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision specifically directed Arizona to comply with those earlier precedents. The amicus was filed in the case of John Montenegro Cruz — currently on Arizona’s death row — who is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Arizona Supreme Court’s refusal to apply those federal constitutional rights in capital sentencing.

“This Court’s intervention is both necessary and appropriate,” our brief argues. “The Arizona decision results in the clear violation of a federal right, and the Arizona Supreme Court’s violation of the Supremacy Clause itself merits this Court’s intervention. Moreover, there is jurisdiction to review the judgment because the state ground is neither adequate to bar review nor independent of federal law. And because Arizona appears to be a singular outlier in its treatment on collateral review of the federal rights at issue here, correction of this error would not affect the practices of other states.”

The Orrick team is led by partner Mel Bostwick and includes senior counsel Tom Bondy and associates Sheila Baynes and Joey Kolker.