This week, the United States Supreme Court refused to take a case. The High Court’s refusal to hear arguments and grade the papers of a lower Arizona court decision means that decision stands. It’s good law. It’s final.
Sometimes, SCOTUS’s power lies it is decision not to exercise that power.
The Arizona Case Where Writ Was Denied by SCOTUS
Last fall, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that James McKinney’s sentence of death by the State of Arizona was unconstitutional. His capital punishment sentence was overturned, and McKinney’s federal appeal was a victory not only for himself, but for around 25 other people sitting on Arizona’s Death Row.
The Ninth Circuit opinion can be read online here at Google Scholar.
Mitigation Evidence of Child Abuse Victim and PTSD
In sum, the federal appeals court ruled that the Arizona rule of "causal nexus" had violated the federal constitution by keeping out evidence of McKinney’s being abused as a child and his diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The abuse McKinney suffered as a child and the resulting psychological trauma is detailed in the Ninth Circuit’s majority opinion.
This is mitigating evidence used by defense lawyers to argue against the sentence of death during the sentencing phase of a capital trial. (Terry Lenamon is passionate about this issue and the fight for balancing psychological and mental issues of the defendant on the sentencing scale.)
This means that the McKinney opinion can now form the basis of other appeals, seeking review of the mitigation evidence and sentencing trials of other defendants who were sentenced to death in Arizona.
Heated Dissent in the Ninth Circuit Case
The dissent pulls no punches. There is strong disagreement about what the majority decides, and the refusal of SCOTUS to grant writ in this case may be a surprise to many.
As the dissent (five justices joining) points out, for one thing this case may well impact every death penalty given in Arizona from 1989 to 2005 and more. From the Dissent:
"Also quite troubling, the majority wrongly smears the Arizona Supreme Court and calls into question every single death sentence imposed in Arizona between 1989 and 2005 and our cases which have denied habeas relief as to those sentences."
For more, read the Associated Press coverage by Astrid Galvan, "US Supreme Court Won’t Hear Arizona Death Case."