People have right to defend themselves even if it kills them, high court rules

Aaron Gunches was sentenced to death in February 2008 for the 2002 murder of a man near Mesa. Gunches pleaded guilty to the crimes. /PHOTO BY- Arizona Department of Corrections
Aaron Gunches was sentenced to death in February 2008 for the 2002 murder of a man near Mesa. Gunches pleaded guilty to the crimes. /PHOTO BY- Arizona Department of Corrections

By Howard Fischer | Capitol Media Services via Arizona Capitol Tims

It may literally be a death-defying act.

But the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Thursday that people convicted of murder have the right to represent themselves in the part of the trial where a jury is deciding whether they live or die.

The justices rejected the pleas of Aaron Gunches, now finally represented by a public defender, that they should overturn the decision by a jury to sentence him to death because he acted as his own lawyer in the penalty phase of the trial. Justice John Pelander, writing for the unanimous court, while the decision was “ill advised,” said there is a long-standing constitutional right of defendants who are competent to represent themselves.

Continued:

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