Legal Victories

Reforming the law

Our fight for legal reform

US Supreme Court

Landmark federal law

Arizona Supreme Court

Landmark Arizona laws

US Supreme Court Win: Martinez v. Ryan

In 2012, the United States Supreme Court, the highest court in the country, issued its opinion in Martinez v. Ryan that the ineffective assistance by an appellate lawyer can excuse a failure to raise a constitutional violation of the incompetence and ineffectiveness of trial counsel in seeking a new, fair trial.    

Almost fifty years earlier, in 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Gideon v. Wainwright that the 6th Amendment guarantees a right to the assistance of counsel to defendants facing felony charges in state court. Then, in 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Strickland v. Washington that defense counsel cannot be asleep on the job and must adhere to a standard of reasonableness.

Like many Arizona Justice Project cases, the process of getting to this U.S. Supreme Court victory was long. In 2003, ASU law professor Bob Bartels, began representing Luis Martinez on behalf of the Arizona Justice Project.  In the review and investigation of the Martinez case, Bartels developed evidence demonstrating the ineffectiveness of Martinez’s trial counsel and post-conviction counsel for failing to present evidence and expert testimony that would have demonstrated his innocence.

The case was litigated in the Arizona state courts, where we lost each step of the way.  Bartels then took the case into federal court and again was denied relief by the District Court and by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

In 2011, the United States Supreme Court granted review and opened its chamber to one of the most important and fundamental constitutional questions addressed in criminal proceedings.  Bob Bartels and AJP attorneys traveled to Washington D.C. where Bartels argued the case.  

The following year, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Martinez’s favor (7 to 2)

Fairness in Sentencing

In March 2020, the Arizona Supreme Court unanimously decided that the sentence imposed on Mr. Chaparro in 1995 allowing for eligibility of release on parole (after serving 25 years) would stand. This ruling is a huge step in the direction of fairness of sentencing in Arizona. This ruling came on the heels of incredible work by the legal team including pro bono partners from Perkins Coie, the ASU Post-Conviction Clinic, and the AJP.  Mr. Chaparro finally received his parole hearing in April 2020 and was granted release on parole. 

View the details here: Chaparro v. Shinn

Arizona Supreme Court Win: State v. Gutierrez

What happens when post-conviction DNA testing on probative crime scene evidence points to someone other than the defendant?

In 2012, the Arizona Supreme Court held that a defendant should be entitled to some sort of hearing to allow a defendant to present the new evidence and further develop factual issues that underlie his claim for relief.

Five years earlier, with the assistance of pro bono counsel, Isaac Gabriel from the law firm of Quarles & Brady, Mr. Gutierrez petitioned the court under Arizona’s post-conviction DNA testing law (A.R.S. 13-4240). This law allows a court to order DNA testing in the post-trial setting if the petitioner can show there is a reasonable probability that he would not have been convicted had exculpatory DNA results existed. The Superior Court ordered DNA testing which established Mr. Guterriez was not the donor of any of the DNA (sweat stains and hairs) on the cap worn by the shooter. Based on the DNA test results, Mr. Gutierrez sought post-conviction relief. The court, however, denied relief without even holding a hearing to allow Mr. Gutierrez to develop the new facts and his legal claims for relief.

The case made its way to the Arizona Supreme Court, where Isaac Gabriel argued on behalf of Mr. Gutierrez.  This was the first time the Arizona Supreme Court had to interpret Arizona’s DNA testing statute and what process a defendant is entitled to when favorable DNA test results are obtained. 

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mr. Gutierrez and sent the case back to the trial court for a hearing on the new evidence.