A Supreme Court Ruling Roils Death Penalty Cases: Not long after the United States Supreme Court invalidated Arizona's death penalty statute in June and only a week before the Arizona Legislature enacted emergency legislation to reinstate it, two men accused of murder tried a bold legal maneuver that may save their lives. They pleaded guilty. The prosecutor was surprised but candid: he said the men could plead guilty without fear of execution. He has since changed his mind. The judge, in Holbrook, Ariz., will hear arguments Thursday on the prosecutor's motion to undo the pleas. [...] Nicholas S. Sizemore and Scott B. Brian, the two Arizona men who pleaded guilty, were already serving time for murder when they fatally stabbed Carlos R. Ceniceros, a fellow inmate, in November 2000. Mr. Sizemore, 21, was in the fourth year of a 30-year sentence. Mr. Brian, 38, was serving a life sentence. [...] "There does not appear to be a viable death penalty sentence to which Mr. Sizemore would be exposed," he told the judge. He added a similar comment about Mr. Brian. The judge, Dale P. Neilson, agreed, telling the defendants that life in prison was the maximum sentence and accepting their pleas. He scheduled a sentencing hearing for September. [...] just days before the sentencing, [prosecutor Joseph Duarte] had his own surprise for the court. He said in court papers that he had been wrong about the death penalty and that the sentencing could proceed under the new law. He suggested that the defendants should be allowed to withdraw their pleas. This drew a strong reaction from one of Mr. Sizemore's lawyers in a court filing. "Why, in the name of God, would Mr. Sizemore want to withdraw?" the lawyer, Thomas J. Phalen, asked. "So that the state can kill him?" (NY Times, registration required.)
Well ... yes. Arizona's position is, quite clearly, that these people need killin', and they should politely withdraw their pleas so that the state can get on with the business. After all, they've recognized their guilt, so all they have to do is to plead guilty again, and the state can get on with ushering them off this mortal coil, right?
You do wonder, really, why on earth Arizona would even make that argument. It's not vaguely sane. I would also imagine, given the limitations of the successor death penalty statute, that that will eventually be found unconstitutional, either by the state supreme court or the US Supreme Court; victims' role aside, it can't be constitutional to constrict the review of a jury verdict in that way. (I do like the part where the attorney general says that the people could have been sentenced to death under the old statute. Well, clearly, they couldn't have been; death sentences under that statute were explicitly overruled by the Court.)
It's also interesting to watch the unseemly scramble as the state fights to retain the old death sentences under the overruled statute, by apparently arguing that the juries heard aspects of the cases that constitute the proper jury involvement. After all, clearly it doesn't -- that argument is ludicrous on its face. I do understand why the state is making this argument, though; in order to get death sentences under the new statute, they will essentially need to retry the case in front of a new jury. The person's guilt will be conceded -- given that they were found guilty, you would have to -- but since the new jury won't have heard any of the evidence, you need to mount the case again. No prosecutor would want to do that, and even the defense attorneys can't really be looking forward to it. After all, it's going to be an incredible drain on time and resources for all of them.Posted by iain at September 16, 2002 01:59 PM
Is Arizona opposing or supporting the D.P.?Posted by Dasani at September 29, 2003 08:56 AM