Bloomberg Law
March 28, 2022, 2:25 PM

Justices Take on Postconviction Review in Arizona Death Case

Jordan S. Rubin
Jordan S. Rubin

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an Arizona death-row appeal over the interplay between state and federal rules for postconviction review.

Death-row prisoner John Cruz says the state is flouting high-court precedent while officials say a state procedural rule blocks relief.

In 1994’s Simmons v. South Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court said that, in cases where a capital defendant’s future dangerousness is at issue, the defendant can tell the jury he’s ineligible for parole if not sentenced to death. In 2016’s Lynch v. Arizona, the justices confirmed the Simmons rule applies in that state.

Cruz was sentenced to death after his trial judge blocked him from telling the jury that he wouldn’t have been eligible for parole, he said in his petition. His conviction became final after Simmons but before Lynch. He sought state postconviction relief but was denied.

Opposing review, Arizona officials said state criminal procedure rule 32.1(g) blocks Cruz’s claim because, under that rule, Lynch wasn’t a significant change in the law.

The justices granted review on the question whether the Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling that the state procedural rule blocked relief is an adequate and independent state-law ground for the judgment.

The case will likely be heard during the court’s next term, which begins in October.

The case is Cruz v. Arizona, U.S., No. 21-846.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jordan S. Rubin in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tom P. Taylor at; Seth Stern at; John Crawley at