__ U.S. __ (2016), 15-8366, Lynch v. Arizona
|Citation:||__ U.S. __, 136 S.Ct. 1818, 195 L.Ed.2d 99, 84 U.S.L.W. 4346, 26 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 198|
|Opinion Judge:||PER CURIAM.|
|Party Name:||SHAWN PATRICK LYNCH v. ARIZONA|
|Judge Panel:||Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan. JUSTICE THOMAS, with whom JUSTICE ALITO joins, dissenting.|
|Case Date:||May 31, 2016|
|Court:||United States Supreme Court|
Lynch was convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, and burglary for a 2001 killing. The state sought the death penalty. Before Lynch’s penalty phase trial began, Arizona successfully moved to prevent his counsel from informing the jury that the only alternative sentence to death was life without the possibility of parole. The jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict. A second... (see full summary)
ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ARIZONA
Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan.
[195 L.Ed.2d 100] PER CURIAM.
Under Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154, 114 S.Ct. 2187, 129 L.Ed.2d 133 (1994), and its progeny, " where a capital defendant's future dangerousness is at issue, and the only sentencing alternative to death available to the jury is life imprisonment without possibility of parole," the Due Process Clause " entitles the defendant 'to inform the jury of [his] parole ineligibility, either by a jury instruction or in arguments by counsel.'" Shafer v. South Carolina, 532 U.S. 36, 39, 121 S.Ct. 1263, 149 L.Ed.2d 178 [195 L.Ed.2d 101] (2001) (quoting Ramdass v.
Angelone, 530 U.S. 156, 165, 120 S.Ct. 2113, 147 L.Ed.2d 125 (2000) (plurality opinion)). In the decision below, the Arizona Supreme Court found that the [136 S.Ct. 1819] State had put petitioner Shawn Patrick Lynch's future dangerousness at issue during his capital sentencing proceeding and acknowledged that Lynch's only alternative sentence to death was life imprisonment without parole. 238 Ariz. 84, 103, 357 P.3d 119, 138 (2015). But the court nonetheless concluded that Lynch had no right to inform the jury of his parole ineligibility. Ibid. The judgment is reversed.
A jury convicted Lynch of first-degree murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, and burglary for the 2001 killing of James Panzarella. The State sought the death penalty. Before Lynch's penalty phase trial began, Arizona moved to prevent his counsel from informing the jury that the only alternative sentence to death was life without the possibility of parole. App. K to Pet. for Cert. The court granted the motion.
Lynch's first penalty phase jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict. A second jury was convened and sentenced Lynch to death. On appeal, the Arizona Supreme Court vacated the sentence because the jury instructions improperly described Arizona law. The court did not address Lynch's alternative argument that the trial court had violated Simmons. On remand, a third penalty phase jury sentenced Lynch to death.
The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed, this time considering and rejecting Lynch's Simmons claim. The court agreed that, during the third penalty phase, " [t]he State suggested . . . that Lynch could be dangerous." 238 Ariz., at 103, 357 P.3d, at 138. The court also recognized that Lynch was parole ineligible: Under Arizona law, " parole is available only to individuals who committed a felony before January 1, 1994," and Lynch committed his crimes in 2001. Ibid. (citing Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 41-1604.09(I)). Nevertheless, while " [a]n instruction that parole is not currently available would be correct," the court held that " the failure to give the Simmons instruction was not error." 238 Ariz., at 103, 357 P.3d, at 138.
That conclusion conflicts with this Court's precedents. In Simmons, as here, a capital defendant was ineligible for parole under state law. 512 U.S. at 156, 114 S.Ct. 2187, 129 L.Ed.2d 133 (plurality opinion). During the penalty phase, the State argued that the jurors should consider the defendant's future dangerousness when determining the proper punishment. Id., at 157, 114 S.Ct. 2187, 129 L.Ed.2d 133. But the trial court refused to permit defense counsel to tell the jury that the only alternative sentence to death was life without parole. Id., at 157, 160, 114 S.Ct. 2187, 129 L.Ed.2d 133. The Court reversed, reasoning that due process entitled the defendant to rebut the prosecution's argument that he posed a future danger by informing his sentencing jury that he is parole ineligible. Id., at 161-162, 114 S.Ct. 2187, 129 L.Ed.2d 133; id., at 178, 114 S.Ct. 2187, 129 L.Ed.2d 133 (O'Connor, J., concurring in judgment). The Court's opinions reiterated that holding in Ramdass, Shafer, and Kelly v. South Carolina, 534 U.S. 246, 122 S.Ct. 726, 151 L.Ed.2d 670 (2002).
[195 L.Ed.2d 102] The Arizona Supreme Court thought Arizona's sentencing law sufficiently different from the others this Court had considered that Simmons did not apply. It relied on the fact that, under state law, Lynch could have received a life sentence that would have made him eligible for " release" after 25 years. 238 Ariz., at 103-104, 357 P.3d, at 138-139; § 13-751(A). But under state law, the only kind of release for which Lynch would have been eligible--as the State does not contest--is executive clemency. See Pet. for Cert. 22; 238 Ariz., at 103-104, 357 P.3d, at 138-139. And Simmons expressly rejected the argument that the possibility of clemency diminishes a capital defendant's right to inform a jury of his parole ineligibility. [136 S.Ct. 1820] There, South Carolina had argued that the defendant need not be allowed to present this information to the jury " because future exigencies," including " commutation [and] clemency," could one day " allow [him] to be released into society." 512 U.S. at 166, 114 S.Ct. 2187, 129 L.Ed.2d 133 (plurality opinion). The Court disagreed: " To the extent that the State opposes even a simple parole-ineligibility instruction because of hypothetical future developments, the argument has little force." Ibid. ; id., at 177, 114 S.Ct. 2187, 129 L.Ed.2d 133 (opinion of O'Connor, J.) (explaining that the defendant had a right " to bring his parole ineligibility to the jury's attention" and that the State could respond with " truthful information regarding the availability of commutation, pardon, and the like" ).
The State responds that Simmons " 'applies only to instances where, as a legal matter, there is no possibility of parole.'" Brief in Opposition 11 (quoting Ramdass, 530 U.S. at 169, 120 S.Ct. 2113, 147 L.Ed.2d 125 (plurality opinion)). Notwithstanding the fact that Arizona law currently prevents all felons who committed their offenses after 1993 from obtaining parole, 238 Ariz., at 103, 357 P.3d, at 138, Arizona reasons that " nothing prevents the legislature from creating a parole system in the future for which [Lynch] would have been eligible had the court sentenced him to life...
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