Recent Decisions

2019 Term Decisions of Interest to Capital Habeas Practitioners

McKinney v. Arizona, 589 U.S. ___ (Feb. 25, 2020) - Affirming the Arizona Supreme Court's decision upholding McKinney's death sentences after the Arizona Supreme Court reweighed the aggravating and mitigating evidence, including mitigation the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had found the state supreme court had previously refused to consider. The holding in Clemons v. Mississippi, 494 U.S. 738 (1990) allowing the reweighing of aggravating and mitigating evidence by an appellate court applies in cases like this where there has been a violation of Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104 (1982).   The decisions in Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002) and Hurst v. Florida, 577 U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 616 (2016), did not overrule Clemons.  "Under Ring and Hurst, a jury must find the aggravating circumstance that makes the defendant death eligible.  But importantly, in a capital sentencing proceeding just as in an ordinary sentencing proceeding, a jury (as opposed to a judge) is not constitutionally required to weigh the aggravating and mitigating circumstances or to make the ultimate sentencing decision within the relevant sentencing range."  Because Ring and Hurst do not require jury weighing of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, they do not prohibit judicial reweighing under Clemons.  Although a Ring error did occur in this case because the sentencing judge rather than the jury found the existence of aggravating factors, the Ring rule was not retroactively applicable to what the state court characterized as a collateral proceeding as opposed to the reopening of the direct appeal.