Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Death Penalty (Styers v. Schriro) [Warden], 547 F.3d 1026 (9th Cir. 2008)

Convicted and sentenced to death in an Arizona state court eighteen years ago for the murder of a four year old child, Styers began the familar appellate dance. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the conviction although it reversed one count alleging pecuniary gain. On appeal in state court from his conviction and to avoid the death penalty, Styers offered evidence he suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder attributable to his service in Vietnam. The Arizona court wrote: "This could, in an appropriate case, constitute mitigation [of the sentence]. . . However, two doctors who examined defendant could not connect defendant's condition to his behavior at the time of the conspiracy and murder." Styers filed habeas corpus in the Ninth Circuit. In what can only be characterized as rhetorical legerdemain, the Ninth Circuit three judge panel writes that by including the word "however" in that quoted sentence (a "conjunctive adverb," said the court) the Arizona court indicates the absence of causation between the disorder and the crime. According to the Ninth Circuit panel, causation is not the test, and the court must consider all the evidence without including that element. Therefore, this evidence was not considered as a mitigating factor by the trial judge in sentencing the defendant to death. This statment misreads the Arizona Supreme Court decision. That court is saying the doctors found no evidence of any disorder. In other words, any evidence of stress was absent and irrelevant to the trial court decision. The Ninth Circuit panel remanded for re sentencing. Given the heinous nature of the crime in murdering a helpless four year old child, the decision to return this case to the trial court for re sentencing is inexplicable. Styers v. Schriro, 547 F.3d 1026 (9th Cir. 2008)

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