Stewart v. Smith

PETITIONER: Terry L. Stewart, Director, Arizona Department of Corrections
RESPONDENT: Robert Douglas Smith
LOCATION: South Carolina State Ports Authority

DOCKET NO.: 01-339
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 536 US 856 (2002)
CERTIFIED QUESTION TO ARIZONA SUPREME COURT: Dec 12, 2001
DECIDED: Jun 28, 2002

Facts of the case

Robert Smith was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Smith filed a series of petitions for state postconviction relief, alleging that his trial and appellate counsel were ineffective. The Superior Court denied Smith's claims, finding them waived under Arizona Rule 32.2(a)(3) because he failed to raise them in his previous Rule 32 petitions. The court rejected Smith's argument that his failure to raise these claims was also due to ineffective assistance because his prior appellate and Rule 32 counsel, who are members of the Arizona Public Defender's office, refused to file ineffective assistance of counsel claims because his trial counsel was also a member of the Public Defender's office. The Federal District Court held that Smith's claim was barred by the lower court's procedural ruling. In reversing, the Court of Appeals held that the state procedural default was not independent of federal law and thus did not bar federal review of the merits of Smith's claim. The appellate court reasoned that Arizona Rule 32.2(a)(3) applies a different standard for waiver depending on whether the claim asserted in a Rule 32 petition was of sufficient constitutional magnitude and that determination whether a claim is of sufficient magnitude required consideration of the merits of the claim. 

Question

Did the Court of Appeals err in interpreting Arizona law concerning its postconviction-relief rule?