Published on: Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Supreme Court granted certiorari in Cruz v. Arizona, No. 21-846 (Mar. 28, 2022) (cert. granted), to decide “[w]hether the Arizona Supreme Court’s holding that Arizona Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.1 (g) precluded post-conviction relief is an adequate and independent state-law ground for the judgment.

In Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154 (1994), the Supreme Court held that in cases where a capital defendant’s future dangerousness is at issue, due process entitles the defendant to inform the jury that he will be ineligible for parole if not sentenced to death. For many years thereafter, the Arizona Supreme Court refused to apply Simmons. In Lynch v. Arizona, 578 U.S. 613 (2016) (per curiam), the Court summarily reversed the Arizona Supreme Court’s misapplication of Simmons and confirmed that the Simmons rule applies in Arizona.

Petitioner John Cruz’s conviction and death sentence became final after Simmons but before Lynch.  He was sentenced to death after the trial judge repeatedly denied him his right under Simmons to inform the jury that he was parole-ineligible. After the Court in Lynch applied Simmons to Arizona, Cruz sought postconviction relief in state court seeking the relief that Simmons and Lynch require.

The Arizona Supreme Court denied his claim based on Ariz. R. Crim. P. 32.1(g).  An Arizona defendant is generally precluded from seeking collateral review of a matter he could have raised during his direct appeal.  One exception is when there is a significant change in the law which, if applicable to his case, would probably overturn his judgment or sentence. Ariz. R. Crim. P. 32.1(g).  Applying this exception, the Arizona Supreme Court held that, because Lynch was based on precedent well established at the time the defendant was convicted and sentenced, it was not a significant change in the law for purposes of permitting relief pursuant to Rule 32.1(g).  

The U.S. Supreme Court will now decide if Arizona’s application of its procedural rule 32.1(g) is an independent and adequate state ground to bar federal review.  In other words, was the Arizona Supreme Court nonetheless required to apply Lynch retroactively to Cruz’s case.

Certiorari stage briefing is availabe on the Court's website here.