United States District Court, D. Arizona
HONORABLE ROSLYN O. SILVER SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT
and Defendants wish to depose non-party James L. Styers but
Styers believes he is entitled to refuse to answer all
possible questions based on his Fifth Amendment privilege.
Plaintiff and Defendants disagree, arguing the history and
current status of Styers' challenges to his convictions
and sentences establish he is no longer entitled to invoke
the Fifth Amendment privilege. There is no authority
definitively resolving the issue, specifically regarding
Styers and his present status, but the better reading of
existing law is that Styers is not now entitled to invoke the
privilege regarding the crimes underlying his convictions.
ability to invoke the Fifth Amendment appears to depend on
the current status of his post-conviction challenges.
Therefore, the Court has looked to the history of his
post-conviction challenges in some detail. Only after
reciting those events can the focus turn to the attempts to
depose Styers in this litigation.
Styers' Post-Conviction Proceedings
1990, Styers was convicted of “first-degree murder,
conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, child abuse, and
kidnapping.” 2007 WL 86944, at *2 (D. Ariz. Jan. 10,
2007). The court sentenced Styers to death. State v.
Styers, 865 P.2d 765, 770 (Ariz. 1993). Styers appealed
his convictions and sentences to the Arizona Supreme Court.
That court reversed Styers' conviction for child abuse
but affirmed his other convictions as well as the death
sentence. Id. at 772, 778. The United States Supreme
Court denied Styers' petition for writ of certiorari.
Styers v. Arizona, 513 U.S. 855 (1994).
then pursued state post-conviction relief. 2007 WL 86944, at
*2. The state courts denied relief and, on December 16, 1998,
Styers filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus.
Id. In those proceedings Styers asserted a total of
nine claims. Id. at *1. In an order issued
relatively early in those proceedings, the district court
determined four claims “were procedurally barred and
[one claim] lacked merit.” Id. The district
court later analyzed the remaining five claims and concluded
Styers was not entitled to relief. Styers appealed to the
Ninth Circuit “affirm[ed] the district court on all
counts, except Styers' claim that the Arizona Supreme
Court failed to fulfill its obligations under Clemons v.
Mississippi, ” regarding that court's
independent weighing of the aggravating and mitigating
circumstances. Styers v. Schriro, 547 F.3d 1026,
1027-27 (9th Cir. 2008). The Ninth Circuit remanded to the
district court “with instructions to grant the writ
with respect to Styers' sentence unless the state, within
a reasonable period of time, either corrects the
constitutional error in petitioner's death sentence or
vacates the sentence and imposes a less sentence.”
Id. at 1036. The State of Arizona filed an
unsuccessful petition for writ of certiorari. Ryan v.
Styers, 558 U.S. 932 (2009).
remand, “the district court entered judgment granting
the writ of habeas corpus unless the State of Arizona, within
120 days of the judgment, ‘initiate[d] proceedings
either to correct the constitutional error in
Petitioner's death sentence or to vacate the sentence and
impose a lesser sentence consistent with the law.'”
Styers v. Ryan, 2012 WL 3062799, at *1 (D. Ariz.
July 26, 2012). The Supreme Court of Arizona received
briefing from both sides and concluded it was not necessary
to send the case for a full resentencing. Rather, the Arizona
Supreme Court concluded it could remedy the error identified
by the Ninth Circuit by “conduct[ing] a new independent
review of [Styer's] capital sentence.” Id.
at *2. The Arizona Supreme Court conducted that independent
review and held the death sentence was appropriate.
Id. Styers filed an unsuccessful petition for a writ
of certiorari regarding the Arizona Supreme Court's
decision. Styers v. Arizona, 565 U.S. 994 (2011).
Styers then filed a motion in his federal habeas case
requesting an “unconditional writ releasing him from
his death sentence, ” arguing the Arizona Supreme Court
had failed to comply with the federal court's
instructions. 2012 WL 3062799, at *2.
district court denied Styers' request for an
unconditional writ. The district court held the relief
ordered by the Ninth Circuit “gave the State the
opportunity to cure the constitutional defect” but did
not specify precisely how it must do so. Id. The
Arizona Supreme Court's “new independent review of
Petitioner's capital sentence . . . remedied the
constitutional infirmity” the Ninth Circuit had
identified. Id. at *6. Therefore, Styers was not
entitled to any additional relief. Styers appealed the
district court's decision.
after the district court's decision denying Styers'
request for an unconditional writ, he filed a separate
petition in federal court. CV-12-2332-PHX-JAT. That petition
raised eight grounds for relief. Styers v. Ryan,
2013 WL 1775981, at *2 (D. Ariz. April 25, 2013). Some of
those grounds addressed issues that were raised or could have
been raised in Styers' earlier petition. But some of the
grounds addressed aspects of the Arizona Supreme Court's
reweighing. When reviewing that second petition, the district
court concluded it could not consider any of the grounds
Styers had raised in his earlier petition nor could the court
consider any of the grounds Styers could have raised earlier.
The district court concluded, however, that it could
entertain arguments based on the “new independent
sentencing review.” Id. at *5. The district
court decided to stay all those claims based on the pending
appeal involving the earlier petition.
December 30, 2015, the Ninth Circuit issued its opinion
regarding Styer's earlier petition. In that opinion, the
Ninth Circuit addressed whether, after the writ had been
granted, the Arizona Supreme Court was entitled to conduct a
new independent sentencing review or if the case should have
been sent for an entirely new sentencing. Styers v.
Ryan, 811 F.3d 292, 294 (9th Cir. 2015). The Ninth
Circuit concluded the Arizona Supreme Court's decision
that it could correct the error merely through a new
independent sentencing review was not “contrary to,
[nor did it] involve an unreasonable application of,
clearly established federal law as determine by the Supreme
Court of the United States.” Id. at 297.
Moreover, the Arizona Supreme Court's new independent
sentencing review complied with all constitutional
requirements. Therefore, Styers was not entitled to relief.
Styers filed an unsuccessful petition for writ of certiorari.
Styers v. Ryan, 137 S.Ct. 1332 (2017).
the petition for writ of certiorari was denied in 2017, the
district court hearing Styers' second federal petition
issued its ruling. That court concluded the only grounds for
relief that were still pending involved the propriety of the
Arizona Supreme Court's independent sentencing review.
Because the Ninth Circuit had addressed those grounds in its
2015 decision, the district court found the grounds
“moot.” Styers v. Ryan, 2017 WL 3641454,
at *1 (D. Ariz. Aug. 24, 2017). The district court then
denied Styers' request to reconsider its refusal to
address the other grounds, including grounds involving
Styers' convictions. The district court denied that
request. Finally, the district court denied Styers'
request for a certificate of appealability.
CV-12-2332-PHX-JAT, Doc. 36. Styers subsequently requested a
certificate of appealability from the Ninth Circuit. That
request remains pending. Ninth Circuit Case No. 17-17356,
Doc. 4 (filed January 17, 2018).
on this extensive history, Styers' convictions and death
sentence have followed slightly differently post-conviction
paths. Regarding his convictions, they have been affirmed
during the following proceedings: 1) a direct appeal to the
Arizona Supreme Court; 2) an unsuccessful petition for writ
of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court; 3) state
post-conviction proceedings; 4) federal district court; 5)
Ninth Circuit review; 6) an unsuccessful petition for writ of
certiorari to the ...