CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

SCOTUS Decides Burton v Stewart

Supreme_court_20_11 From Recently decided Burton v Stewart in which the Court did not decide whether Blakely v. Washington, 542 US 296 (2004), applies retroactively on collateral review. Instead, the Court decided that the federal district court lacked jurisdiction over this case because Burton did not seek or obtain authorization from the court of appeals to file this "second or successive petition" for habeas corpus.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to determine whether its decision in Blakely v. Washington, 542 U. S. 296 (2004), announced a new rule and, if so, whether it applies retroactively on collateral review. The Court did not answer these questions, however, because Burton, a state prisoner seeking postconviction relief from the federal courts, failed to comply with the gatekeeping requirements of 28 U. S. C. §2244(b). That failure deprived the District Court of jurisdiction to hear his claims. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded with instructions to direct the District Court to dismiss Burton's habeas corpus application for lack of jurisdiction.

Burton was convicted in Washington state court of rape, robbery, and burglary, and sentenced to 562 months of imprisonment. Before his conviction became final the US Supreme Court decided Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 US 466 (2000), which requires that facts used to sentence a criminal to more than the statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. After his conviction became final the Court decided Blakely v. Washington, 542 US 296 (2004), which held that the Washington state sentencing scheme is subject to the Apprendi rules.

Burton brought a federal habeas corpus action challenging his sentence because it was enhanced based on facts that were found by the judge rather than by a jury. That would violate the rule in Blakely - if Blakely applies to his case. The 9th Circuit held that Blakely did not apply because it should not apply in a retroactive manner to convictions that were final before it was decided. 

The Supreme Court noted that Burton's petition for habeas corpus was a "second or successive" petition because he had filed another petition three years earlier. The relevant statute, 28 USC Section 2244(b)(3)(A), established by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, says that before filing a "second or successive" habeas petition a prisoner "shall move in the appropriate court of appeals for an order authorizing the district court to consider the application." Burton did not do so, and therefore the district court did not have jurisdiction over his case.

Full Decision. . . [Mark Godsey]

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