Capital Sentencing Guide

Created by the
Arizona Death Penalty Judicial Assistance Program

Table of Contents
Updated March 2022


Overview: Welcome to the Capital Sentencing Guide. The Guide was created by the Capital Staff Attorneys of the Arizona Death Penalty Judicial Assistance Program to assist Arizona’s Superior Court judges. The Guide is updated throughout each year when significant legislative changes are made to relevant sections of the Arizona Revised Statutes, new capital case opinions are released by the Arizona Supreme Court, or the Arizona Supreme Court makes significant changes to relevant Court Rules.

The Guide summarizes all Arizona Supreme Court opinions interpreting aggravating and mitigating circumstances since Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972). The "Aggravating Circumstances" section organizes the summaries by the particular statutory aggravating circumstance. A.R.S. § 13-751(F)(1)-(14). The "Mitigating Circumstances" section organizes the summaries by the particular mitigating circumstance, both statutory and non-statutory. The "Case Summaries" section collects the information by case name and is in chronological order. An additional section discusses Arizona's treatment of the Enmund/Tison requirement by statute. See generally, A.R.S. § 13-752, and specifically A.R.S. §§ 13-752(P) and 752(S).

Cases Marked with an *: Denotes cases in which the Arizona Supreme Court reduced the death sentence on direct appeal.
Statutory re-lettering ignored: At the present time, and for almost all of the past 30 years, the aggravating circumstances are found in subsection F and the mitigating circumstances in subsection G of A.R.S. § 13-751. For a brief period - August 9, 2001 to August 1, 2002 - each subsection had one higher letter: aggravation was in G and mitigation in H. The Legislature then reverted to the original designations. Due to the brief time in which these changes were in effect, the Guide cites only to the current and longstanding designations to avoid confusion.

Additions to Aggravating Circumstances: Effective August 12, 2005, the Legislature added four new aggravators – (F)(11), (F)(12), (F)(13) and (F)(14). The Supreme Court upheld the (F)(13) aggravator in State v. (Dale Shawn) Hausner, 230 Ariz. 60, 280 P.3d 604 (2012). The remaining three factors have not yet yielded reported cases.

Recent Deletion and Amendment of Aggravating Circumstances: On April 10, 2019, the Governor signed SB1314. The legislation will take effect on August 26, 2019, which is 90-days after the 54th Legislature, First Regular Session adjourned Sine Die on May 28, 2019. SB1314 amends A.R.S. § 13-751(F) by repealing three (3) aggravating circumstances and consolidating and narrowing the “pecuniary gain” aggravating circumstance(s). A.R.S. § 13-751(F)(3), (F)(13), and (F)(14) are repealed by SB1314, and § 13-751(F)(4) and (F)(5) are consolidated into a new (F)(3) that more narrowly defines “pecuniary gain” as procured murder by payment or promise of payment of anything of pecuniary value or committed the murder as result of payment or promise of payment of anything of pecuniary value.

Reported Ring Harmless Error Cases: Only those Ring cases reviewed for harmless error in which at least one aggravator was found to be harmless beyond a reasonable doubt are reported in the Guide. The facts and legal analyses used in these opinions can be relied upon, even if the ultimate decision of the Supreme Court was to remand the case for re-sentencing before a jury. The fact that an aggravator was found not to be harmless beyond a reasonable doubt does not imply that the evidence was, or later will be found to be insufficient to support the aggravator, and should not be relied upon as such.

Contact Information for Judges: The Judicial Assistance Program is a statewide program and the Capital Case Staff Attorneys are available to assist judges in any of the fifteen (15) Arizona counties. Judges requesting assistance in a capital case can contact the Capital Case Staff Attorney listed below:
Michele Lawson (602) 372-2038     [email protected]
Jason Lewis (602) 506-5059     [email protected]

The Capital Case Staff Attorneys do not respond to non-judicial communications due to ethical rules. For general information about the program, please contact the General Counsel, Judicial Branch in Maricopa County: