Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich obviously takes his job seriously and, along with that, takes an aggressive view of enforcing the law and protecting the public. Many Arizonans appreciate this approach, and they re-elected him last year to a second four-year term.
While we often agree with his views and approach, he seemed to go a little too far toward the aggressive side in a recent case in which the Arizona Supreme Court ruled against a conviction. Now he is asking for the support of the nation’s highest court, and how that turns out won’t be known for a while.
A Golden Valley man, Philip J. Martin, fatally shot a neighbor who was on his property, saying he feared for his safety. A Mohave County Superior Court jury rejected a first-degree murder charge but convicted Martin of second-degree murder, and he was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Martin’s case was appealed on the grounds that the judge had refused a request by his attorney to tell the jury about the right to use force in preventing crime. A second trial made things worse for Martin, however, because the jury convicted him of first-degree murder. That time he was given life.
The Arizona Supreme Court rejected Martin’s second conviction, saying that it violated his constitutional right against “double jeopardy” because the first jury had opted against first degree and he could not face that charge again. Arizona Justice Clint Bolick opined for the court that this was different than a hung jury and that the earlier jurors had decided against first-degree murder.
As the state’s chief law enforcement officer, Brnovich is taking the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to overrule its Arizona counterpart. However well-intentioned, Brnovich seems to be reaching too far. The case is convoluted and Martin may indeed be guilty, but he’s not guilty of first-degree murder.