The Court released a slew of cases last week, five to be specific, and the vast majority of press coverage has been focused on Riegel v. Medtronics. Riegel isn’t bad, but the case that really drew my attention was Danforth v. Minnesota.

Danforth first made news (within the overly excited blogosphere) when the Justices turn an ordinary mundane session of Oral Arguments into a circus.

There are two prior cases that are relevant precedent in Danforth. The first case revolves around a ‘new rule’ that the Court ‘created’ in Crawford v. Washington (2005) related to the permissibility of certain types of testimonial statements in criminal cases. The Court in Crawford ruled that the Confrontation Clause necessitates confrontation for all testimonial evidence. Prior to Crawford, police-conducted testimony was not bound by the Confrontation Clause and defendants were not always granted the right to cross-examination.

The second relevant case in Danforth is Teague v. Lane (1989). Teague, however, invoked a few cases of its own. The Court held in Linkletter v. Walker (1965) that “the exclusionary rule announced in Mapp (v. Ohio) does not apply to state court convictions which had become final before its rendition.”

Swain v. Alabama (1965) held that in order to prove prima facie Fourteenth Amendment discrimination in the jury selection process based on racially-motivated use of preemptory challenges, defendants must show past instances of racially-motivated use (ie. prosecutor’s history of all-white juries.) In Batson v. Kentucky (1986), the court struck down the evidentiary rule from Swain and instead required only “an inference that the prosecutor used that practice to exclude the veniremen from the petit jury on account of their race.” A per curiam opinion in Allen v. Hardy (1986) held that Baston should not be applied retroactively because a “decision announcing a new constitutional rule of criminal procedure is almost automatically nonretroactive where the decision explicitly overrules past precedent” and the Baston rule “does not have such a fundamental impact on the integrity of factfinding as to compel retroactive application.”

That is where Teague enters into the fray. The Court drew heavily from Linkletter v. Walker (1965) where it held that “the exclusionary rule announced in Mapp (v. Ohio) does not apply to state court convictions which had become final before its rendition.” The Court first defined a ‘new rule’ as a standard that “breaks new ground or imposes a new obligation on the States or the Federal Government” or “if the result was not dictated by precedent existing at the time the defendant’s conviction became final.” Justice Stevens opens his opinion in Danforth by summarizing the Teague Rule:

New constitutional rules announced by this Court that place certain kinds of primary individual conduct beyond the power of the States to proscribe, as well as “water- shed” rules of criminal procedure, must be applied in all future trials, all cases pending on direct review, and all federal habeas corpus proceedings. All other new rules of criminal procedure must be applied in future trials and in cases pending on direct review, but may not provide the basis for a federal collateral attack on a state-court conviction.

Back to Danforth- Petitioner Stephen Danforth was arrested in 1994 for first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor. The minor did not testify in court but the jury was permitted to see a videotaped interview with him. Danforth was convicted and his case was finalized (all appeal was exhausted and statutes of limitations expired) in 1998.

In 2004, the Court decided Crawford which applied the confrontation clause to testimonial statements. Danforth applied for state postconviction relief and the State Supreme Court ruled that (1) Crawford was not relevant precedent under Teague and that (2) State Courts could not apply retroactivity standards broader than were necessitated by federal law.

By a vote of 7-2, the Supreme Court concluded that the Minnesota State Supreme Court was permitted to extend the scope of retroactivity, but not required to do so. Simply put:

Neither Linkletter nor Teague explicitly or implicitly constrained the authority of the States to provide remedies for a broader range of constitutional violations than are redressable on federal habeas.

The Court’s opinion seemed like a fairly logical conclusion to a rather simple question- Can states offer individuals more protection than the Federal Government requires? It seems so obvious that I went to the Minnesota Supreme Court’s opinion to find a reason why that logic wouldn’t hold. Check out the opinion here.

Danforth is incorrect when he asserts that state courts are free to give a Supreme Court decision of federal constitutional criminal procedure broader retroactive application than that given by the Supreme Court. In American Trucking Associations, the plurality rested its retroactivity analysis in part on Michigan v. Payne, 412 U.S. 47 (1973). Am. Trucking Ass’ns, Inc., 496 U.S. at 178. In Payne, the Court reversed the decision of the Michigan Supreme Court, which had applied North Carolina v. Pearce, 395 U.S. 711 (1969), retroactively to Payne’s case, and held that Pearce would not apply to errors occurring before Pearce was decided. Payne, 412 U.S. 49, 57.

Interesting. Lets take a look at Michigan v. Payne (1973).

Since the resentencing hearing in this case took place approximately two years before Pearce was decided, we hold that the Michigan Supreme Court erred in applying its proscriptions here.

Justice Stevens addressed the issue in Danforth and argued that “not a word in our Payne opinion suggests that the Court intended to prohibit state courts from applying new constitutional standards in a broader range of cases than we require.” I disagree. It sounds like the Payne opinion has language that very clearly limits the ability of states to deviate from federal decisions. Check out the other case, American Trucking Associations v. Smith (1990), here.

One phrase in particular caught my attention- “In order to ensure the uniform application of decisions construing constitutional requirements and to prevent States from denying or curtailing federally protected rights, we have consistently required that state courts adhere to our retroactivity decisions.” It sounds to me like the American Trucking Court had definitely concerned itself with short-selling the American people and was not worried about granting anyone too much protection.

The Chief Justice argues in his dissenting opinion (joined by Justice Kennedy) that “the majority’s decision is grounded on the erroneous view that retroactivity is a remedial question.” In other words, he argues that retroactivity is not based on the idea that we owe individuals some basic remedy and states may add on to that with their own remedies. Instead, retroactivity is a question of “whether ‘new’ or ‘old’ law applies to a particular category of cases.” I could never do justice (pun totally intended) to Chief Justice Roberts’ dissenting opinion so I will let it speak for itself:

The majority explains that when we announce a new rule of law, we are not “creating the law,” but rather “declaring what the law already is.”. But this has nothing to do with the question before us. The point may lead to the conclusion that nonretroactivity of our decisions is improper—the position the Court has adopted in both criminal and civil cases on direct review—but everyone agrees that full retroactivity is not required on collateral review. It necessarily follows that we must choose whether “new” or “old” law applies to a particular category of cases. Suppose, for example, that a defendant, whose conviction became final before we announced our decision in Crawford v. Washington argues (correctly) on collateral review that he was convicted in violation of both Crawford and Ohio v. Roberts, the case that Crawford overruled. Under our decision in Whorton v. Bockting (2007), the “new” rule announced in Crawford would not apply retroactively to the defendant. But I take it to be uncontroversial that the defendant would nevertheless get the benefit of the “old” rule of Roberts, even under the view that the rule not only is but always has been an incorrect reading of the Constitution. Thus, the question whether a particular federal rule will apply retroactively is, in a very real way, a choice between new and old law. The issue in this case is who should decide. [Citations omitted]


Nor is there anything in today’s decision suggesting that States could not adopt more nuanced approaches to retroactivity. For example, suppose we hold that the Sixth Amendment right to be represented by particular counsel of choice, recently announced in United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez, 548 U. S. 140 (2006) , is a new rule that does not apply retroactively. Under the majority’s rationale, a state court could decide that it nonetheless will apply Gonzalez-Lopez retroactively, but only if the defendant could prove prejudice, or some other criterion we had rejected as irrelevant in defining the substantive right. Under the majority’s logic, that would not be a misapplication of our decision in Gonzalez-Lopez—which specifically rejected any required showing of prejudice, id., at 147–148—but simply a state decision on the scope of available remedies in state court. The possible permutations—from State to State, and federal right to federal right—are endless.

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