Capital Sentencing Guide

STRESS

STRESS

[This category contains cases where the defendant essentially argues that he was under substantial stress at the time of the murder. This is often argued as a kind of nonstatutory version of duress. Cases concerning post-traumatic stress disorder can be found in the mental impairment section.]

State v. Jeffers, 135 Ariz. 404, 661 P.2d 1105 (1983)
Although it does not appear that the defendant specifically claimed "duress" as a mitigating circumstance, he did argue that his stormy love-hate relationship with the victim raised a classic provocation situation and that the crime was one induced by the heat of passion. However there was nothing in the record indicating an argument or that the crime was induced by the heat of passion. Several months before the murder, Jeffers learned the victim may have been an informant against him. One week prior to the murder, Jeffers met with the victim and discussed the possibility that she had been an informant against him. The victim advised him that she was now a prostitute and would charge for her favors, but Jeffers testified that he had accepted the situation and was not angry. The Court concluded that even if the victim's actions were sufficient to constitute adequate provocation, there was sufficient time between the provocation and the crime for passions to "cool." The Court agreed with the trial court's finding that Jeffers may have had some reason to be provoked and was under some stress, but "nothing more."

State v. Wallace (Wallace I), 154 Ariz. 362, 728 P.2d 232 (1986)
Wallace argued that the trial court should have found that he murdered his girlfriend and her two children while under "unusual and substantial duress." The basis for the duress claim appeared to be his girlfriend's demand that he move out of their mobile home. The Court found that Wallace's situation did not meet the definition of duress. That definition is "any illegal imprisonment, or legal imprisonment used for an illegal purpose, or threats of bodily or other harm, or other means amounting to or tending to coerce the will of another, and actually inducing him to do an act contrary to his free will." While Wallace's relationship with his girlfriend may have been strained, there was no evidence that he murdered because of threats or provocation. As part of the duress claim, the Court also considered Wallace's claim that the crimes were the result of passion. The Court concluded that the murders could not be characterized as an act of passion. Wallace told a psychiatrist that his argument with his girlfriend was relatively mild in comparison to other arguments and that he expected her to ask him to come home just as she had on other occasions. The psychiatrist testified that Wallace showed neither anger nor resentment toward his girlfriend for having asked him to leave the house. The evidence did not support the claim that the murders were an act of passion.

State v. Hinchey (Hinchey II), 181 Ariz. 307, 890 P.2d 602 (1995)
The defendant argued that the trial court limited its consideration of the defendant's stress as only a statutory mitigating circumstance, and did not consider it as nonstatutory mitigation. The trial court did not find that the defendant's stress had any mitigating value at all. Even if his stress had some weight as a nonstatutory mitigating circumstance, resentencing was unwarranted.

State v. Gulbrandson, 184 Ariz. 46, 906 P.2d 579 (1995)
The defendant presented evidence that he was under significant stress before the crime. Before the murder, the defendant was not eating or sleeping, lost weight, and often paced the floor. There was testimony concerning the defendant being depressed before the murder and having a history of mental illness and psychiatric treatment. Because substantial evidence was presented that the defendant was under stress and that his mental state was deteriorating at or near the time of the murder, the trial court correctly found the defendant's stress to be a nonstatutory mitigating circumstance. It was unclear from the trial court's special verdict whether the trial judge was making a finding of duress, as a statutory mitigating circumstance, or unusual stress, a nonstatutory mitigating circumstance. The Court concluded that the trial court made a finding of unusual stress as a nonstatutory mitigating circumstance.

State v. Schackart, 190 Ariz. 238, 947 P.2d 315 (1997)
While the defendant was not under duress, he was under substantial stress from the breakup of his marriage, and the termination of his college and military careers. This was entitled to some nonstatutory mitigating weight.

State v. Rienhardt, 190 Ariz. 579, 951 P.2d 454 (1997)
The defendant argued that he was under stress at the time of the killing because he was worrying about money and he was up all night without sleep. There was no merit to this argument, and even if it were true it would not be mitigating.

State v. (Ruben) Garza, 216 Ariz. 56, 163 P.3d 1006 (2007)
Stress: The defendant presented evidence that his parents had recently divorced, a baby to whom he was to be the godfather had died in infancy the previous year, he had recently been attacked with a baseball bat for intervening in a dispute between a man and his girlfriend, and he had learned only a week before the murders that a close friend had passed away from cancer. He had also once attempted suicide, talked of suicide on another occasion, and a suicide note was discovered after the murders. The court found that the lack of a causal connection to the crime diminished this mitigation.

State v. (Wendi Elizabeth) Andriano, 215 Ariz. 497, 161 P.3d 540 (July 9, 2007)
Stress of husband’s terminal cancer. The court found this mitigation did not warrant substantial weight because the record did not indicate that the stress of the husband’s cancer was any greater at the time of the offense than it had been two years earlier when it was first diagnosed.

State v. (Patrick Wade) Bearup, 223 Ariz. 163, 211 P.3d 684 (2009)
The disparity between Bearup’s sentence and that of his codefendants was entitled to only limited weight in mitigation because there were explanations for the disparity.  Bearup’s criminal history was more extensive than both codefendants’ history.  One codefendant had a more limited role in the crimes, while the other was younger than Bearup.  Further, both testified at Bearup’s trial and their testimony “was vital to the State’s case against Bearup.” 

State v. (Pete) VanWinkle, 230 Ariz. 387, 285 P.3d 308 (2012)
Defendant’s mitigation focused on the physical and social realities of prison life: (1) the murder was a reaction to the stress of the dangerous high security environment; (2) the jail provided inadequate security procedures to prevent and respond to violence between inmates; and (3) immersion in “prison culture” leaves inmates with few appropriate ways to respond to personal violence or threats.  In addition, he claimed the victim was a “danger,” so the defendant had less moral culpability.
The Court permitted the introduction of rebuttal evidence in the penalty phase: the State was allowed to present rebuttal evidence that VanWinkle had attacked and seriously injured another, weaker inmate after he killed the victim. Following the attack, VanWinkle responded that he would not have passed up the opportunity to attack the other inmate because he was a sex offender. This evidence properly rebutted VanWinkle’s claims in mitigation that he was forced by inmate rules or the stress of prison life to kill the victim in this case.


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