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Hidalgo v. Arizona

United States Supreme Court

March 19, 2018



         The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

          Statement of JUSTICE BREYER, with whom JUSTICE Ginsburg, Justice Sotomayor, and Justice Kagan join, respecting the denial of certiorari.

         The petition in this capital case asks an important Eighth Amendment question:

"Whether Arizona's capital sentencing scheme, which includes so many aggravating circumstances that virtually every defendant convicted of first-degree murder is eligible for death, violates the Eighth Amendment." Pet. for Cert. (i).


         "Our capital punishment cases under the Eighth Amendment address two different aspects of the capital decisionmaking process: the eligibility decision and the selection decision." Tuilaepa v. California, 512 U.S. 967, 971 (1994). States must comply with requirements for each decision. See Kansas v. Marsh, 548 U.S. 163, 173-174 (2006) ("Together, our decisions in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972) (per curiam), and Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976) (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.), establish that a state capital sentencing scheme must" comport with requirements for each decision).

         In respect to the first, the "eligibility decision, " our precedent imposes what is commonly known as the "narrowing" requirement. "To pass constitutional muster, a capital sentencing scheme must 'genuinely narrow the class of persons eligible for the death penalty and must reasonably justify the imposition of a more severe sentence on the defendant compared to others found guilty of murder.'" Lowenfield v. Phelps, 484 U.S. 231, 244 (1988) (quoting Zant v. Stephens, 462 U.S. 862, 877 (1983)). To satisfy the "narrowing requirement, " a state legislature must adopt "statutory factors which determine death eligibility" and thereby "limit the class of murderers to which the death penalty may be applied." Brown v. Sanders, 546 U.S. 212, 216, and n. 2 (2006) (emphasis added); see also Tuilaepa, supra, at 979 ("'Once the jury finds that the defendant falls within the legislatively defined category of persons eligible for the death penalty, . . . the jury then is free to consider a myriad of factors to determine whether death is the appropriate punishment'" (quoting California v. Ramos, 463 U.S. 992, 1008 (1983); emphasis added)); Lowenfield, supra, at 246 (specifying that the "legislature" may provide for the "narrowing function" by statute (emphasis added)); Zant, supra, at 878 ("[S]tatutory aggravating circumstances play a constitutionally necessary function at the stage of legislative definition: they circumscribe the class of persons eligible for the death penalty" (emphasis added)).

         The second aspect of the capital decisionmaking process, the "selection decision, " determines whether a death-eligible defendant should actually receive the death penalty. Tuilaepa, supra, at 972. In making this individualized determination, the jury must "consider relevant mitigating evidence of the character and record of the defendant and the circumstances of the crime." Ibid.; see also Marsh, supra, at 173-174 ("[A] state capital sentencing system must . . . permit a jury to render a reasoned, individualized sentencing determination based on a death-eligible defendant's record, personal characteristics, and the circumstances of his crime"). This second aspect of the capi- tal punishment decision-the selection requirement-is not before us.


         Our precedent makes clear that the legislature may satisfy the "narrowing function ... in either of . . . two ways." Lowenfield, 484 U.S., at 246. First, "[t]he legislature may itself narrow the definition of capital offenses Ibid, (emphasis added). Second, "the legislature may more broadly define capital offenses, " but set forth by statute "aggravating circumstances" which will permit the "jury ... at the penalty phase" to make "findings" that will narrow the legislature's broad definition of the capital offense. Ibid.; see also Tuilaepa, supra, at 972 ("The aggravating circumstance may be contained in the definition of the crime or in a separate sentencing factor (or in both)"). The petitioner here, Abel Daniel Hidalgo, contends that the Arizona Legislature has failed to satisfy the narrowing requirement through either of these two methods.


         Consider the first way a state legislature may satisfy the Constitution's narrowing requirement-namely, by enacting a narrow statutory definition of capital murder. Some States have followed this approach. For example, in Lowenfield, this Court upheld Louisiana's use of this method because it concluded that the State's capital murder statute narrowed the class of intentional murderers to a smaller class of death-eligible murderers. 484 U.S., at 246. Specifically, Louisiana's capital murder statute was limited to cases in which "'the offender'" not only had "'specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm'" but also (1) targeted one of three specifically enumerated categories of victims (children, "'a fireman or peace officer engaged'" in "'lawful duties, '" or multiple victims); or (2) was "'engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of" certain other serious specified crimes; or (3) was a murder-for-hire. Id., at 242 (quoting La. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§14:30(A)(1)-(5) (West 1986)). The Lowenfield Court also noted that Texas' capital murder statute "narrowly defined the categories of murder for which a death sentence could be imposed." 484 U.S., at 245; see also Jurek v. Texas, 428 U.S. 262, 271 (1976) (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.) (upholding the Texas capital murder statute, which made "a smaller class of murders in Texas" death eligible).

         Unlike the Louisiana and Texas statutes, Arizona's capital murder statute makes all first-degree murderers eligible for death and defines first-degree murder broadly to include all premeditated homicides along with felony murder based on 22 possible predicate felony offenses. See Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§13-1105(A)(1)-(2) (2010) (including, for example, transporting marijuana for sale). Perhaps not surprisingly, Arizona did not argue below and does ...

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