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State v. Miles

Supreme Court of Arizona

April 10, 2018

State of Arizona, Petitioner,
Kevin Artice Miles, Respondent.

          Appeal from the Superior Court in Pima County The Honorable Stephen C. Villarreal, Judge No. CR040238

          Mark Brnovich, Arizona Attorney General, Dominic E. Draye, Solicitor General, Lacey Stover Gard (argued), Chief Counsel, Capital Litigation Section, Tucson, John Pressley Todd, Special Assistant Attorney General, Phoenix, Attorneys for State of Arizona

          Jon M. Sands, Federal Public Defender, Cary Sandman (argued), Leticia Marquez, Assistant Federal Public Defenders, Tucson, Attorneys for Kevin Artice Miles

          David J. Euchner (argued), Tucson, Attorney for Amici Curiae Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice and Pima County Public Defender

          Amy Armstrong, Emily Skinner, Phoenix, Attorneys for Amicus Curiae Arizona Capital Representation Project

          JUSTICE TIMMER authored the opinion of the Court, in which CHIEF JUSTICE BALES and JUSTICE BRUTINEL joined.



         ¶1 A defendant convicted of felony murder is eligible for the death penalty only if he himself killed, attempted to kill, or intended that a killing occur or that lethal force be used, Enmund v. Florida, 458 U.S. 782, 797 (1982), or was a major participant in a felony and acted "with reckless indifference to human life, " Tison v. Arizona, 481 U.S. 137, 158 (1987). We hold that in determining if a defendant acted with "reckless indifference, " the factfinder may consider evidence of the defendant's diminished capacity.


         ¶2 In 1992, Kevin Artice Miles, along with juvenile accomplices Levi Jackson and Ray Hernandez, carjacked Patricia Baeuerlen and drove her to the desert, where Jackson shot and killed her. The next year, a jury found Miles guilty of first degree felony murder, kidnapping, and armed robbery. The trial court sentenced Miles to death. (Arizona juries were not authorized to impose the death penalty until 2002. See A.R.S. §§ 13-751, -752.) After conducting an independent review, this Court affirmed. State v. Miles (Miles I), 186 Ariz. 10, 12 (1996). In doing so, we found that Miles was death-eligible under Tison because he was a major participant in the crimes and had shown a reckless indifference toward human life. Id. at 16-17. The trial court denied Miles's subsequent request for postconviction relief ("PCR").

         ¶3 In 2014, after unsuccessfully pursuing habeas corpus relief in federal court, see Miles v. Ryan (Miles II), 713 F.3d 477, 479 (9th Cir. 2013), Miles initiated his second PCR proceeding. He asserted that relief was warranted under Arizona Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.1(h) because newly discovered mitigation evidence demonstrated that the sentencing court would not have imposed the death sentence had the evidence been known.

         ¶4 Following an evidentiary hearing, the PCR court granted Miles relief by commuting his death sentence to a life sentence. The court found that at the time of the murder, Miles suffered from "neurochemical, neurocognitive, and neurobehavioral impairments" caused by the combined effects of cocaine withdrawal syndrome and alcohol related neurodevelopmental disorder ("ARND"), which resulted from in utero alcohol exposure. As a result, although Miles was concededly a major participant in the crimes, the court found he was ineligible for the death penalty under Tison because reasonable doubt existed whether he acted with the requisite reckless mental state.

         ¶5 Alternately, the court ruled that if Miles were death-eligible under Tison, he would nevertheless be entitled to "a resentencing to allow the factfinder to re-weigh the aggravating and mitigating factors" because he sufficiently demonstrated that the sentencing court would not have imposed the death penalty had it known of Miles's mental-health deficiencies.

         ¶6 We granted review of two issues raised by the State, both of which are matters of statewide importance: (1) Did the PCR court err by admitting diminished-capacity and voluntary-intoxication evidence in the Tison inquiry? (2) Can newly proffered mitigation ever constitute clear and convincing evidence under Rule 32.1(h) that a sentencer would not have imposed the death penalty? We have jurisdiction pursuant to article 6, section 5(3), of the Arizona Constitution and A.R.S. § 12-102(A).[1]


         ¶7 We review a court's ruling on a PCR petition for an abuse of discretion. State v. Pandeli, 242 Ariz. 175, 180 ¶ 4 (2017). But an abuse of discretion occurs if the court makes an error of law, and we review legal conclusions de novo. Id.

         I. Rule 32.1(h)

         ¶8 When Miles filed the PCR petition in 2014, Rule 32.1(h) (2000) authorized relief if "[t]he defendant demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that the facts underlying the claim would be sufficient to establish that no reasonable fact-finder would have found defendant guilty of the underlying offense beyond a reasonable doubt, or that the court would not have imposed the death penalty."[2] Because Miles challenged only the imposition of the death penalty and not his murder conviction, he was required to prove that "the court would not have imposed the death penalty." Ariz. R. Crim. P. 32.1(h) (2000). "The court" necessarily refers to the sentencing court as it "imposed the death penalty."

         ¶9 The State urges us to narrowly construe Rule 32.1(h) consistent with the "actual innocence" exception to barring successive, abusive, or defaulted federal habeas claims. See Sawyer v. Whitley, 505 U.S. 333, 335-36 (1992). Under that exception, relief is permitted only when a defendant shows by clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable factfinder would have found him eligible for the death penalty. Id. at 336. Miles and amicus Arizona Capital Representation Project assert that Rule 32.1(h) is more expansive, also authorizing relief if the defendant shows by clear and convincing evidence that he is not deserving of the death penalty in light of newly developed mitigation evidence.

         ¶10 We need not resolve this interpretation dispute. As explained hereafter, we affirm the PCR court's ruling that Miles is ineligible for the death penalty under Tison and therefore do not address the court's alternate basis for its ruling. Even under the State's narrow reading of Rule 32.1(h), a defendant can be granted relief under Rule 32.1(h) for a Tison error.

         ¶11 In his concurrence, Justice Pelander describes the version of Rule 32.1(h) in effect in 2014 as "perplexing" as it required the PCR court to speculate about how the sentencing judge, now deceased, would have sentenced Miles had the judge known of the new mitigation evidence. See infra ¶¶ 29-30. But Rule 32.1(h) does not refer to the sentencing judge (or since 2002, a jury), and construing the rule as imposing a subjective standard would require a PCR court to speculate about a particular sentencer's ruling - an unmanageable, if not impossible, standard. The better reading is that Rule 32.1(h)'s reference to "the court" means a reasonable sentencer, whether a judge or a jury.

         II. Admissibility of evidence in Tison inquiry

         ¶12 The State argues that Miles did not satisfy his Rule 32.1(h) burden because evidence he suffered from cocaine withdrawal syndrome and ARND was inadmissible to refute the mental state required for a Tison death-eligibility finding. Contrary to Miles's assertion, the State adequately preserved this issue.

         ¶13 The Eighth Amendment prohibits "all punishments which by their excessive length or severity are greatly disproportioned to the offenses charged." Tison, 481 U.S. at 148 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). Before a defendant convicted of first degree felony murder can be sentenced to death, an Enmund/Tison finding must be made to ensure that this sentence is proportionate to the defendant's "personal responsibility and moral guilt." Enmund, 458 U.S. at 801; see also Tison, 481 U.S. at 149. The Enmund/Tison inquiry does not concern the guilt or innocence of the defendant but acts as an Eighth Amendment sentencing restraint. See State v. Ring,204 Ariz. 534, 563 ΒΆ 98 ...

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