Whorton v. Bockting

549 U.S. 406, 127 S. Ct. 1173 (2007)



In Teague and subsequent cases, the United States Supreme Court has laid out the framework to be used in determining whether a rule announced in one of the Court's opinions should be applied retroactively to judgments in criminal cases that are already final on direct review. Under the Teague framework, an old rule applies both on direct and collateral review, but a new rule is generally applicable only to cases that are still on direct review. A new rule applies retroactively in a collateral proceeding only if (1) the rule is substantive or (2) the rule is a watershed rule of criminal procedure' implicating the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding.


At Bockting's trial in a Nevada state court for sexual assault on his 6-year-old stepdaughter, the trial court determined that the child was too distressed to testify and allowed the accused's wife and a police detective to recount the child's out-of-court statements about the assaults,as provided for under state law. Bockting was convicted and sentenced to prison. On direct appeal, the Nevada Supreme Court applied Ohio v. Roberts, which had held that the confrontation clause of the Federal Constitution's Sixth Amendment permitted the admission at trial of a hearsay statement made by a declarant who was unavailable to testify if the statement bore sufficient indicia of reliability; and that admission of the child's testimony did not violate the confrontation clause. After the district court denied the Bockting's petition for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C.S. § 2254(d), Bockting appealed to the court of appeals. While this appeal was pending, the United States Supreme Court overruled Ohio v. Roberts in Crawford v. Washington, holding that the confrontation clause prohibited the admission, at a criminal trial, of testimonial statements of a witness absent from the trial, unless the witness was unavailable and the defendant had had an opportunity to cross-examine the witness. The Court of Appeals applied Crawford v. Washington retroactively, and reversed the district court's judgment.


Was theSupreme Court’s decision in Crawford v. Washington retroactive to cases already final on direct review?




It was undisputed that Bockting’s conviction became final on direct appeal well before Crawford was decided. The Court held that Crawford announced a new rule because its rule was not dictated by prior precedent; in fact, the Crawford rule was flatly inconsistent with the prior governing precedent, Roberts, which Crawford overruled. The Court held that the Crawford rule did not fall within the Teague exception for watershed rules because: (1) it was not one without which the likelihood of an accurate conviction was seriously diminished; and (2) neither did it alter the understanding of the bedrock procedural elements essential to the fairness of a proceeding. As the Crawford rule was new and did not fall within an exception to the Teague rule, it should not have been applied retroactively to the Bockting's case that was being collaterally attacked.

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