It’s Monday morning, and the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has issued its orders of the day. Included among them, denial of the Petition for Writ of Certiorari in Hidalgo v. Arizona.
For background, read our earlier posts:
- Hidalgo v Arizona SCOTUS Update: Is No News Good News?
- Will SCOTUS Hear Hidalgo v Arizona and End the Death Penalty?
The Reverberating Importance of Trial in a Capital Case
Key here: the importance of the underlying record in a capital case is once again in the spotlight. The things that happen in the courtroom reverberate for years, not just in the particular circumstances of the defendant on trial for his (her) life, but for others on Death Row; those facing the possibility of the death penalty, and in reality, all of us and the country as a whole.
What happens in the courtroom, where for instance Terry Lenamon works to defend one of the Terrorist Boyz from the death penalty this month, has far-reaching implications. And we can expect Arizona’s death penalty lawyers to take note of Justice Breyer today.
Justice Breyer Explains Need for Evidence in Hidalgo
Although, in my view, the Arizona Supreme Court misapplied our precedent, I agree with the Court’s decision today to deny certiorari. In support of his Eighth Amendment challenge, the petitioner points to empirical evidence about Arizona’s capital sentence system that suggests about 98% of first-degree murder defendants in Arizona were eligible for the death penalty.
That evidence is unrebutted. It points to a possible constitutional problem.
And it was assumed to be true by the state courts below. Evidence of this kind warrants careful attention and evaluation.
However, in this case, the opportunity to develop the record through an evidentiary hearing was denied.
As a result, the record as it has come to us is limited and largely unexamined by experts and the courts below in the first instance.
We do not have evidence, for instance, as to the nature of the 866 cases (perhaps they implicate only a small number of aggravating factors).
Nor has it been fully explained whether and to what extent an empirical study would be relevant to resolving the constitutional question presented.
Capital defendants may have the opportunity to fully develop a record with the kind of empirical evidence that the petitioner points to here.
And the issue presented in this petition will be better suited for certiorari with such a record.