Daily Archives: February 20, 2008

Danforth issued; states free to retroactively remedy violations

SCOTUS issued its much-awaited (by me, atleast) decision in Danforth v. Minnesota [pdf] today, ruling 7-2 that Teague’s retroactivity prohibition applied to Federal courts on federal habeas corpus review. State courts are hence free to apply decisions articulating violations to cases on direct and/or collateral review.

As Justice Stevens makes clear, what the Court does, in say Crawford, for example, is state that a particular act or omission violates the Constitution. It is then left to the states to decide how to remedy that violation.

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.

Our subsequent cases, which characterize the Teague rule as a standard limiting only the scope of federal habeas relief, confirm that Teague speaks only to the context of federal habeas.

He wraps it up very succinctly:

A decision by this Court that a new rule does not apply retroactively under Teague does not imply that there was no right and thus no violation of that right at the time of trial—only that no remedy will be provided in federal habeas courts.

Whatever this means for federal habeas corpus practice, it is pretty clear that us state practitioners can now argue – with a stamp of approval – that our state courts should provide remedies for constitutional violations recently articulated.

It makes much sense, too, if you think about it in the context of the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments applied to the states through the Fourteenth. The Court has maintained that States are free to provide greater protections than afforded by the Federal Constitution. This falls in line with that quite well.

Read the whole decision – it’s very interesting. Justice Stevens conducts an in-depth analysis of Justice O’Connor’s plurality in Teague and cites Justice Scalia heavily. Then there’s this odd footnote; perhaps someone can explain:

13. That same year, we similarly denied retroactive effect to the rule announced in Griffin v. California, 380 U. S. 609 (1965), prohibiting prosecutorial comment on the defendant’s failure to testify. See Tehan v. United States ex rel. Shott, 382 U. S. 406 (1966). Shortly thereafter, in a case involving a Griffin error, we held for the first time that there are some constitutional errors that do not require the automatic reversal of a conviction. Chapman v. California, 386 U. S. 18, 22 (1967). Both Shott and Chapman protected the State of California from a potentially massive exodus of state prisoners because their prosecutors and judges had routinely commented on a defendant’s failure to testify.

A much better in-depth analysis from Scotusblog here. More from SL & P.

H/T: SL & P.

Youngest lifer back in jail: (why) are(n’t) you surprised?

Lionel Tate, sentenced to life without parole at age 14 is back in prison after pleading guilty to holding up a pizza delivery man. Tate was sentenced to life for an incident that occurred when he was 12, in which a 6 year old girl was killed. Tate alleged that she died as a result of wrestling moves gone wrong. He’s just 20 now.

Tate spent three years in prison before he was released pursuant to a new plea agreement. But by then, had a troubled child been lost forever?

Certainly, a life was lost and it is probably indisputable that Tate was responsible to some degree. But what punishment does that warrant? Especially for someone that young? Is putting such a young child in prison the right thing to do in this circumstance? If found guilty, he must “pay”, certainly, but with overwhelming evidence of the slow development of adolescents (he wasn’t even a teen when this happened), should the appropriate sentence have been some form of strong rehabilitation?

We’ve all read the studies and reports that lay out the detrimental impact of housing juveniles and non-violent offenders with violent offenders – the uninitiated emerge from such situations hardened; no better than they were before they went in.

So was this new crime committed by Tate a foregone conclusion? Should we be surprised or even disappointed? Did the three years he spent in the company of older, more experienced criminals wipe away any hope of him leading a productive life? (I have been unable to discover whether he spent those three years in prison or some sort of juvenile detention facility. Let us assume he spent them in a real prison, for he is certainly not the only juvenile to be sentenced to such illustrious company.)

Tell an adult that he is a bad person often enough and he’ll start acting like it. One can only speculate with fear the impact it has on a 12-year old.

Should Tate’s case illustrate the need for more nuanced punishment schemes? Or is he undeserving of any lifeline, despite his tender age? Was the future etched in stone when he entered that prison?

I don’t know the answer, but it’s certainly worth thinking about.