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Automatic Appeals for Death Penalty Sentences in Arizona


One procedural rule that many Arizonians may not be aware of is that death penalty cases are all automatically appealed and sent for review to the Arizona Supreme Court. This is a relatively recent rule that took effect after Arizona enacted its new death penalty sentencing statute. Before this new rule, the Arizona Supreme Court could review these death penalty cases independently.

Back in 1972, the death penalty was actually removed as a sentencing option for convicted felons in Arizona, as well as 31 other states. This was the result of a decision in Furman v. Georgia in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty violated the individual’s eight amendment rights and was considered “cruel and unusual” punishment.

Just one year later, Arizona implemented ARS 13-454, which redefined the procedures for death penalty cases. The new procedures required courts to hold a separate hearing just for sentencing, and this hearing would not be before a jury. At this hearing, the court would evaluate six different factors. If the defendant met any one of these six criteria, then the court could consider the death penalty. It was not necessarily guaranteed after one of these was proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

  1. Criminal record contained a conviction that did or could have resulted in a life sentence or death penalty;
  2. Defendant was previously convicted of a criminal offense involving the use of violence or threatened violence;
  3. The defendant posed a grave risk of death to others;
  4. The defendant was involved in a murder for hire/payment;
  5. The defendant killed before for money;
  6. The defendant committed murder in a manner that was particularly heinous, cruel, or depraved.

Currently, the only criminal conviction that can warrant the death penalty in the state of Arizona is first-degree premeditated murder (or some other type of felony murder). To learn more about Arizona’s murder laws and what you can do if you or someone you know has been accused, contact a Phoenix criminal defense attorney at MayesTelles PLLC today.

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