U.S. Supreme Court Reverses Arizona Death Sentence


The United States Supreme Court last week reversed an Arizona man’s death sentence after the trial judge refused to inform the jury that the defendant would not be eligible for parole if the jury chose life instead of a death sentence.

Supreme Court precedent holds that, whenever the prosecutor raises a question about a defendant’s potential to be dangerous in the future, the defendant is entitled to tell the jury that he will not be eligible for parole if he is sentenced to life imprisonment.

Because the Arizona court did not follow this clear rule, the Court reversed the death sentence imposed on Shawn Lynch and remanded for a new sentencing trial.

It will be Mr. Lynch’s fourth sentencing trial. His first sentencing jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict. A second jury imposed a death sentence but that sentence was vacated because of misconduct by prosecutor Juan Martinez, who misrepresented to the jury that the “excessively cruel, heinous or depraved” aggravating factor counted as three separate aggravators.

The Arizona Supreme Court found that, at Mr. Lynch’s third sentencing trial, Mr. Martinez “disturbingly made a number of inappropriate comments” and engaged in “some instances” of misconduct. The state court did not reverse, but that death sentence has now been vacated by the United States Supreme Court.