Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
New rules of procedure generally do not apply retroactively. They do not produce a class of persons convicted of conduct the law does not make criminal, but merely raise the possibility that someone convicted with use of the invalidated procedure might have been acquitted otherwise. Because of this more speculative connection to innocence, the United States Supreme Court gives retroactive effect to only a small set of "watershed rules of criminal procedure" implicating the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding. That a new procedural rule is "fundamental" in some abstract sense is not enough; the rule must be one without which the likelihood of an accurate conviction is seriously diminished. This class of rules is extremely narrow, and it is unlikely that any has yet to emerge.
An accused, who had been convicted, in an Arizona state court, of first-degree murder, was sentenced to death by the trial judge on the basis of the judge's finding of aggravating factors, where the state's capital-sentencing scheme authorized a judge, rather than a jury, to determine the presence of aggravating factors. On direct review, the Arizona Supreme Court affirmed. While the accused's subsequent federal habeas corpus proceedings were pending in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the United States Supreme Court, in Ring v Arizona (2002) 536 U.S. 584, 153 L. Ed. 2d 556, 122 S. Ct. 2428, announced a new rule that allowing a sentencing judge, without a jury, to find an aggravating circumstance necessary for imposing the death penalty, violated the right to a jury trial under the Federal Constitution's Sixth Amendment. In invalidating the accused's death sentence, the Court of Appeals rejected the argument that Ring did not apply on the basis that the accused's conviction and sentence had become final on direct review before Ring was decided. Certiorari was granted.
Would the Ring rule apply retroactively to cases already final on direct review?
The Court held that the new rule announced in Ring did not apply retroactively to cases already final on direct review because the Ring rule was properly classified as procedural –which type of rule generally did not apply to cases already final on direct review--for the rule altered the range of permissible methods for determining whether a defendant's conduct was punishable by death. The accused argued that the rule fell under the retroactivity exception for watershed rules of criminal procedure; however, the Court held that when so many presumably reasonable minds continued to disagree over whether juries were better factfinders, it could not have confidently said that judicial factfinding seriously diminished accuracy.