PHOENIX -- Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has gained another victory at the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS). In a 6-3 ruling, the justices decided that federal courts reviewing prisoner cases can't hold evidentiary hearings to fully assess their ineffective-counsel claims, which should have been brought in state court.
"The wheels of justice take time to turn, but they should not be stuck for decades," said Arizona Attorney General Brnovich. "I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision because it will help refocus society on achieving justice for victims, instead of on endless delays that allow convicted killers to dodge accountability for their heinous crimes."
Arizona filed a single petition at the Supreme Court for two similar cases (Shinn v. Ramirez, and Shinn v. Jones). To sum up the complicated case, both Ramirez and Jones have been sentenced to death for their respective criminal convictions, and they were seeking habeas relief from their death sentences on the basis that their respective attorneys failed to present what they claim to be exonerating evidence at trial. However, this issue is part of a larger scheme of procedural gamesmanship, wherein evidence is intentionally withheld in state courts in order to achieve a lesser, more favorable sentencing further down the line or at the least, delay sentencing.
In Ramirez, a jury found Ramirez guilty of two brutal murders, a mother and her fifteen-year-old daughter. A jury found Jones guilty of murdering and sexually assaulting his live-in girlfriend’s four-year-old daughter, as well as child abuse. Both Ramirez and Jones filed federal habeas petitions, claiming that their counsel was not adequate in defending their respective cases. Two Ninth Circuit panels concluded that 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2) (the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which limits when individuals sentenced to death are able to present new evidence in federal court) did not apply to these cases. The Ninth Circuit relied on a previous SCOTUS decision in Martinez v. Ryan, which General Brnovich argued needed to be re-evaluated.
SCOTUS granted certiorari and agreed to answer an important question regarding if the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act is inapplicable to situations such as with Ramirez and Jones because of Martinez v. Ryan.
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act was intended by Congress to protect federalism by encouraging prisoners to fully develop their claims in state court. However, the Ninth Circuit’s decisions would have accomplished quite the opposite, by encouraging prisoners to withhold evidence in state court in order to receive a better outcome. This practice undermines the justice system and is precisely the reason a Supreme Court ruling in favor of Shinn was essential. In fact, nearly every capital habeas petition in Arizona takes advantage of this fallacious Martinez interpretation.
With today’s ruling, SCOTUS has protected our justice system by enforcing proper and timely convictions. General Brnovich is proud to have worked on such an important case and applauds the Supreme Court’s decision.