Tuesday, February 25, 2020

BREAKING: Supreme Court Affirms Arizona Death Sentence For James McKinney, On 5-4 Vote (READ Opinion)

The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the Arizona death penalty sentence for murderer James McKinney, in a divided 5-4 vote. The majority sided with the Arizona AG's Office that McKinney did not need to be re-sentenced to take his childhood-caused PTSD into greater account.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the majority opinion, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the equally-brief dissent. Kavanaugh dismisses the defendant's argument that the Arizona Supreme Court reopened a direct review of the aggravating and mitigating factors. Kavanaugh agreed with the state's determination that its review in 2018 was a collateral review.
But the premise of that argument is wrong because the Arizona Supreme Court’s reweighing of the aggravating and mitigating circumstances occurred on collateral review, not direct review. In conducting the reweighing, the Arizona Supreme Court explained that it was conducting an independent review in a collateral proceeding. The court cited its prior decision in State v. Styers, which concluded that Arizona could conduct such an independent review in a collateral proceeding. Under these circumstances, we may not second guess the Arizona Supreme Court’s characterization of state law.
Justice Ginsburg pointed out that the Arizona Supreme Court had engaged in a direct review of the death sentence in 1996, and that its proceeding in 2018 amounted to another direct review. She writes that the death sentence is therefore invalid because the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down Arizona's then-existing death sentence regime as unconstitutional (in Ring v. Arizona in 2002), and that a jury should therefore make the determination.

After oral argument in December, AZ Law had noted that Justice Kavanaugh had been the most involved Justice in questioning both Arizona Solicitor General O.H. Skinner and Neil Katyal for the defense.

AZ Law has reached out to both sides for comment and will update this article as warranted.

"AZ Law" includes articles, commentaries and updates about opinions from the Arizona Supreme Court, U.S. Supreme Court, as well as trial and appellate courts, etc.

More on these cases and other legal news can be found at ArizonasLaw.org.

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