Monday, May 17, 2021

SCOTUS Decision on Habeas Retroactivity: Edwards v. Vannoy

Today the Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision in Edwards v. Vannoy (covered earlier here). Justice Kavanaugh’s majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Barrett, begins:

Last Term in Ramos v. Louisiana, 590 U. S. ___ (2020), this Court held that a state jury must be unanimous to convict a criminal defendant of a serious offense. Ramos repudiated this Court’s 1972 decision in Apodaca v. Oregon, 406 U. S. 404, which had allowed non-unanimous juries in state criminal trials. The question in this case is whether the new rule of criminal procedure announced in Ramos applies retroactively to overturn final convictions on federal collateral review. Under this Court’s retroactivity precedents, the answer is no.

This Court has repeatedly stated that a decision announcing a new rule of criminal procedure ordinarily does not apply retroactively on federal collateral review. See Teague v. Lane, 489 U. S. 288, 310 (1989) (plurality opinion); see also Linkletter v. Walker, 381 U. S. 618, 639–640, and n. 20 (1965). Indeed, in the 32 years since Teague underscored that principle, this Court has announced many important new rules of criminal procedure. But the Court has not applied any of those new rules retroactively on federal collateral review. See, e.g., Whorton v. Bockting, 549 U. S. 406, 421 (2007) (Confrontation Clause rule recognized in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U. S. 36 (2004), does not apply retroactively). And for decades before Teague, the Court also regularly declined to apply new rules retroactively, including on federal collateral review. See, e.g., DeStefano v. Woods, 392 U. S. 631, 635 (1968) (per curiam) (jury-trial rule recognized in Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U. S. 145 (1968), does not apply retroactively).

Later in the opinion, Justice Kavanaugh overrules Teague v. Lane’s principle that “watershed” rules of criminal procedure may apply retroactively on habeas review:

If landmark and historic criminal procedure decisions—including Mapp, Miranda, Duncan, Crawford, Batson, and now Ramos—do not apply retroactively on federal collateral review, how can any additional new rules of criminal procedure apply retroactively on federal collateral review? At this point, some 32 years after Teague, we think the only candid answer is that none can—that is, no new rules of criminal procedure can satisfy the watershed exception. We cannot responsibly continue to suggest otherwise to litigants and courts. In Teague itself, the Court recognized that the purported exception was unlikely to apply in practice, because it was “unlikely” that such watershed “components of basic due process have yet to emerge.” 489 U. S., at 313 (plurality opinion). The Court has often repeated that “it is unlikely that any of these watershed rules has yet to emerge.” Tyler, 533 U. S., at 667, n. 7 (alteration and internal quotation marks omitted); see also, e.g., Whorton, 549 U. S., at 417; Summerlin, 542 U. S., at 352. And for decades, the Court has rejected watershed status for new procedural rule after new procedural rule, amply demonstrating that the purported exception has become an empty promise. Continuing to articulate a theoretical exception that never actually applies in practice offers false hope to defendants, distorts the law, misleads judges, and wastes the resources of defense counsel, prosecutors, and courts. Moreover, no one can reasonably rely on an exception that is non-existent in practice, so no reliance interests can be affected by forthrightly acknowledging reality. It is time— probably long past time—to make explicit what has become increasingly apparent to bench and bar over the last 32 years: New procedural rules do not apply retroactively on federal collateral review. The watershed exception is moribund. It must “be regarded as retaining no vitality.” Herrera v. Wyoming, 587 U. S. ___, ___ (2019) (slip op., at 11) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Justice Thomas writes a concurring opinion joined by Justice Gorsuch. And Justice Gorsuch writes a concurring opinion joined by Justice Thomas.

Justice Kagan writes a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor. The dissenters take particular aim at the majority’s overruling of Teague. From Justice Kagan’s introduction:

So everything rests on the majority’s last move—the overturning of Teague’s watershed exception. If there can never be any watershed rules—as the majority here asserts out of the blue—then, yes, jury unanimity cannot be one. The result follows trippingly from the premise. But adopting the premise requires departing from judicial practice and principle. In overruling a critical aspect of Teague, the majority follows none of the usual rules of stare decisis. It discards precedent without a party requesting that action. And it does so with barely a reason given, much less the “special justification” our law demands. Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., 573 U. S. 258, 266 (2014). The majority in that way compounds its initial error: Not content to misapply Teague’s watershed provision here, see ante, at 10–14, the majority forecloses any future application, see ante, at 14–15. It prevents any procedural rule ever—no matter how integral to adjudicative fairness—from benefiting a defendant on habeas review. Thus does a settled principle of retroactivity law die, in an effort to support an insupportable ruling.

Federal Courts, Recent Decisions, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink


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