Defendant Is Entitled to Instruction That, If Sentenced to Life, He Would Not Be Eligible for Parole, Notwithstanding the Potential Availability of Executive Clemency
July 15th, 2016

In Lynch v. Arizona, ___U.S.___; 136 S.Ct. 1818 (May 31, 2016) the defendant was sentenced to death after the prosecutor argued Lynch’s future dangerousness and the judge refused to instruct the jury that, if sentenced to life, the defendant would be ineligible for parole.

While the relevant statutes provided that, if the jury returned a life verdict, the judge could impose a life sentence with no possibility of release or a life sentence with a possibility of release after 25 years, the only possibility of release was by executive clemency.  Parole was not available under either type of life sentence.

The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed, distinguishing Simmons v. South Carolina (1994) 512 U.S. 154 [Simmons] because Lynch – although ineligible for parole – could receive executive clemency.  357 P.3d 119, 138-39.

The USSC summarily reversed in a (6-2) per curiam opinion holding that Simmons entitles a defendant to a penalty phase instruction that, if sentenced to life, he will be ineligible for parole even if he would be potentially eligible for executive clemency.  Id. at 166 (plurality opinion).  Moreover, the instruction is required notwithstanding the hypothetical possibility that a future law will create parole eligibility that does not now exist.  Ramdass v. Angelone (2000) 530 U.S. 156, 171 (plurality opinion).  (Justices Thomas and Alito dissenting.)

See FORECITE F 760 n2; F 766.3

Tags: , ,