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Supreme Court to Hear Two Arizona Death Penalty Cases

The Supreme Court will hear two cases from Arizona that could have implications for the death penalty and sentencing. Here’s what you should know.

Shinn v. Ramirez and Shinn v. Jones

The cases on the docket include Shinn v. Ramirez and Shinn v. Jones. David Ramirez was sentenced to death by a jury in 1989 for the murders of his girlfriend and her daughter. He appealed the case, but the Arizona Supreme Court upheld his sentence, including the death sentence.

At the time, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case despite Ramirez’s appeals. Not only did both the Arizona and federal Supreme Court deny his appeals, but Ramirez was also substituted counsel due to questionable representation. In other words, there were doubts about whether his attorneys were effective or not.

The core of these cases is whether the federal government has any power to interfere when inadequate lawyering happens in a state court.

Habeas Precedent

Habeus corpus is a legal term for the justification of incarceration. In other words, habeas corpus determines whether a person is in prison for the right reasons. This can either be a writ that may bring a detainee before the court or a petition for civil action.

In some cases, habeas corpus can be used to evaluate extradition, bail, or court jurisdiction, which the Supreme Court will be investigating in the Shinn v. Ramirez case. The Court will need to determine whether federal courts have jurisdiction over state cases if legal counselors are inadequate for the case.

The Constitution

Another critical element of this hearing will be the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. The Sixth Amendment grants people accused of a crime the right to legal representation in court. If the defendant cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint a public defender to them.

This is supposed to give everyone a fair chance at justice. However, one specific phrase in the Constitution is more contentious: “effective assistance of counsel.” This refers to the ability of the legal counselor, hired or court-appointed, to represent their client in court.

This single phrase includes not only defense but also the appeals process. Under the Sixth Amendment, a defendant has the right to legal representation in the appeals process as well as the initial trial.

The Case at Hand

The issue with these cases going before the court is that it brings into question whether a legal representation is effective if it isn’t a private attorney instead of a public defender. This not only could set a precedent for death penalty cases, but it could challenge one of the central rights we have within the criminal justice system.

If state-appointed attorneys are no longer relevant, does that mean that the right to an attorney is in jeopardy? Will those sentenced to death be able to appeal their cases?


The Supreme Court will hear the cases later this month. Many anti-death penalty and criminal justice reform proponents are concerned about what kind of precedent their decision may make in the future. The right to an attorney is at stake, and Arizona lawmakers are pushing for change that may not be in the people’s best interests.

If you have been accused of a crime in Arizona, contact Territorial Law, LLC.