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Supreme Court decision 'all but overrules two recent precedents' in Arizona-based case

It's not the abortion rights case many were expecting, but Shinn v. Ramirez could have far-reaching ramifications for prisoners on death row.

PHOENIX — The Supreme Court issued two opinions Monday morning and although neither of them are on abortion rights, the Arizona-based Shinn v. Ramirez has some broad ramifications.

Shinn v. Martinez - which was argued Dec. 8, 2021 - May 23, 2022 - concluded in a 6-3 ruling that federal courts can't consider evidence that was not introduced at a state level for ineffective-counsel claims.

That means that if a prisoner is trying to argue that the legal counsel they received wasn't helpful, or failed to represent them, they have to present their evidence before the case reaches federal court.

HOW THE DECISION AFFECTS ARIZONA: Supreme Court ruling could send innocent Arizona convict to his death, critics contend

Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the majority opinion stating, "We have no power to redefine when a prisoner 'has failed to develop the factual basis of a claim in State court proceedings.'"

Justice Thomas also provided a detailed recounting of the crimes committed by Martinez Ramirez and Barry Lee Jones.

On May 25, 1989, David Martinez Ramirez stabbed his girlfriend and her 15-year-old daughter to death in their home. A police investigation found that he had sexually assaulted the teenager, to which Ramirez later confessed.

Likewise, Barry Lee Jones was convicted of beating his girlfriend's 4-year-old daughter to death on May 1, 1994. Evidence showed injuries also caused by sexual assault.

Both men, Arizona residents, were sentenced to death.

After their sentencing, both men filed for post-conviction relief to avoid the death penalty. They both argued that they had been provided ineffective counsel.

Ramirez claimed his attorney failed to present evidence that would have lessened his charges from the death penalty. Jones argued that his case had not been properly investigated.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich brought the cases before the Supreme Court under the single petition Shinn v. Martinez.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Stephen G. Breyer formed the dissenting opinion. 

"The Court all but overrules two recent precedents that recognized a critical exception to the general rule that federal courts may not consider claims on habeas review that were not raised in state court," said Justice Sotomayor.

She criticized the decision, saying that "no matter how heinous the crime, any conviction must be secured respecting all constitutional protections."

The dissenting opinion also notes that Jones likely would not have been convicted had his trial counsel "adequately investigated and presented medical and other expert testimony" during the case.

So what does this decision mean going forward?

We spoke with Attorney Benjamin Taylor of Taylor & Gomez, LLP about how this decision could impact our legal system.

"So this, of course, could possibly lead to more convictions," said Taylor, "because a defendant doesn't have the ability to bring up ineffective assistance of counsel anymore unless they brought it up early on in the state court level."

"That's one less thing they can use as ammunition to try to get their case overturned," Taylor said.

And it's important to note that this decision could impact all cases, not just those dealing with the death penalty.

"The United States Supreme Court rules over the whole entire country. So when they make a ruling, it's set in stone," Taylor explained.

"Not only death penalty cases, but other murder cases, drug cases, any case that has an appeal issue involving this ruling today can affect it," said Taylor.

It's a law coming out of our state that affects the whole nation.

Now, if you feel your lawyer isn't doing a good job, it's more important than ever to address the problem as soon as possible.

Shinn v. Martinez means that by the time your appeal reaches a federal court, it could be too late to prove your case.

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