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Neil Wake

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Neil Wake
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Current Court Information:
United States District Court for the District of Arizona
Title:   Judge
Position:   Seat #4
Appointed by:   George W. Bush
Active:   03/15/2004 - Present
Preceded by:   Paul Rosenblatt
Past post:   Attorney in private practice
Past term:   1974 - 2004
Personal History
Born:   1948
Hometown:   Phoenix, AZ
Undergraduate:   Arizona State U., 1971
Law School:   Harvard Law School, 1974

Neil Vincent Wake is a federal judge for the United States District Court for the District of Arizona. He joined the court in 2004 after being nominated by President George W. Bush.[1]


Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Wake graduated from Arizona State University with his B.A. in 1971, and later from Harvard Law School with his J.D. in 1974.[1]

Professional career

Wake was a private practice attorney in the State of Arizona from 1974 to 2004.[1]

Judicial career

District of Arizona

On the recommendation of Arizona U.S. Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, Wake was nominated to the United States District Court for the District of Arizona by President George W. Bush on October 22, 2003, to a seat vacated by Paul Rosenblatt. Wake was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on March 12, 2004, and received commission on March 15, 2004.[2]

Notable cases

Death penalty case on First Amendment grounds leads to botched execution (2014)

     United States District Court for the District of Arizona (Wood v. Ryan, CV 14-1447-PHX-NVW)

On July 11, 2014, Judge Neil Wake ruled that the execution of Arizona death row prisoner Joseph Wood would not violate the inmate’s First Amendment rights, regardless of the fact that the state refused to reveal detailed information about the drug protocol that would be used to bring about his death.[3]

In the underlying case, Wood was sentenced to be executed following the murder of his former girlfriend and her father in 1989. Wood, along with a handful of other death row prisoners, filed a civil rights complaint in June 2014 in an attempt to get an injunction to prevent their execution. In that suit, Wood’s attorney contended that Arizona was “violating the public’s 1st Amendment right to be informed about the manner in which the state plans to carry out the most serious penalty available in the criminal justice system.”[3]

In his opinion, Judge Wake found that Wood had already been provided with enough information related to his execution, such as the type of drugs that would be used, the specific dosage, and the drugs’ expiration dates, and ruled that information was “sufficient for an ‘informed public debate’” over their usage.[3]

Wood continued to seek additional information and appealed to the Ninth Circuit, where a divided panel composed of Judges Jay Bybee, Ronald Gould, and Sidney Thomas, delayed the death row inmate’s execution on July 19, 2014. The judges cited Wood's First Amendment right to obtain more knowledge about the way in which he would be killed, including the qualifications and certifications of the personnel who would perform the execution. This was the first time that an appellate court ruled that a prisoner had the right to obtain such explicit details about the manner in which he would be executed.[4]

Arizona officials filed a motion for reconsideration of the panel’s ruling en banc, which was later denied by the judges of the Ninth Circuit on July 21, 2014, although the decision was divided. Arizona then filed a motion with the Supreme Court of the United States to lift the Ninth Circuit's stay, and the high court granted that motion.[5]

On July 23, 2014, Wood was executed. The procedure was supposed to take 10-15 minutes, but it took Wood almost two hours to die. Wood reportedly gasped for the duration of the execution process, which led his attorney to file an emergency appeal with Judge Wake, as he believed his client was still alive. In it, the attorney wrote that the execution “violated Mr. Wood’s Eighth Amendment right to be executed in the absence of cruel and unusual punishment,” and requested that the Arizona Department of Corrections save Wood’s life. His attorney even called Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in an attempt to get the high court to intervene. In a last ditch effort to save his client's life, Wood’s attorney called three justices of the Arizona Supreme Court.[6]

Wood died before any judge could intervene, and Justice Kennedy eventually denied the request.[6] Arizona probed the circumstances behind Wood’s death.[7]

Petition deadline upheld (2014)

     United States District Court for the District of Arizona (Arizona Green Party, et al. v. Ken Bennett, No. CV-14-00375-PHX-NVW)

On May 16, 2014, Judge Wake upheld the state's petition deadline for newly-qualifying political parties. In his opinion in Arizona Green Party v. Bennett, Wake held that the deadline as established was necessary in order to allow the state sufficient time to prepare for the qualifying party's primary election (which occurs six months after the petition filing deadline).[8] Some opponents of the deadline pointed to the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Anderson v. Celebrezze, which held that Ohio's early filing deadline for independent presidential candidates violated the voting and associational rights of the candidates' supporters. The Green Party filed a notice of appeal.[8]

Lethal injection delay case (2012)

     United States District Court for the District of Arizona (Robert Towery, et al v. Janice Brewer, et al, No. CV-12-245-PHX-ROS)

Judge Wake denied a preliminary injunction that would have ceased, or at least delayed, two executions due to changes for the lethal injection protocol by the Arizona Department of Corrections.[9]

Judge Wake regularly ruled in favor of the Arizona Department of Corrections against the allegations put forth by the Federal Public Defender's Office, which asked for the delay in the executions of two men, Robert Moormann and Robert Towery. Moormann, 63, was executed on February 29, 2012, whereas Towery, 46, was executed on March 8, 2012.[9]

The new protocol, argued the federal defender, gave too much power to the Corrections Director Charles Ryan, as well as lessened the required qualifications of executioners, and eliminated the chance of a condemned prisoner to meet with his or her attorneys in person on the day they were scheduled to be executed.[9]

This request was denied by Judge Wake, who also ruled in December of 2011 that the Corrections Department never violated a prisoner's right in following its own department protocol.

Moorman was on Arizona's death row for 27 years for brutally killing and dismembering his adoptive mother Roberta when she was 74 years old, in addition to serving a life sentence for the kidnapping of an eight-year old girl in 1972. Towery was executed for killing a man while he robbed his home in 1991.[9]

See also

External links


Federal judicial offices
Preceded by:
Paul Rosenblatt
District of Arizona
Seat #4
Succeeded by:

ArizonaArizona Supreme CourtArizona Court of AppealsArizona Superior CourtArizona Justice CourtsArizona Municipal CourtsUnited States District Court for the District of ArizonaUnited States Court of Appeals for the Ninth CircuitArizona countiesArizona judicial newsArizona judicial electionsJudicial selection in ArizonaArizonaTemplatewithoutBankruptcy.jpg