Edwards v. Vannoy: New criminal procedural rules will never be retroactive on federal collateral review; unanimous-jury holding not retroactive
New criminal procedural rules will never be retroactive on federal collateral review, the U.S. Supreme Court held May 17 in Edwards v. Vannoy.
The Court rejected retroactive application of last year’s holding that Louisiana and Oregon juries must be unanimous in finding guilt.
But the Court went beyond that to overturn Teague’s holding that “watershed” procedural rules would be retroactive on collateral review.
Thedrick Edwards was convicted in Louisiana by a non-unanimous jury of robbery, kidnapping and rape.
After Louisiana courts affirmed his convictions and denied postconviction relief, Edwards filed a petition for federal habeas relief in 2015. He argued the non-unanimous jury verdict violated the constitutional right to a unanimous jury.
The district court denied relief on grounds that Supreme Court precedent had rejected this claim. The Fifth Circuit affirmed.
Edwards filed a petition for writ of certiorari.
While his cert. petition was pending, the Court, in 2020, decided Ramos v. Louisiana, which held the Sixth Amendment requires that juries be unanimous.
The Court granted cert. to determine if Ramos’ rule was retroactive on federal collateral review.
In a 6-3 opinion, the Court held the jury unanimity rule was not retroactive.
“A new rule of criminal procedure applies to cases on direct review, even if the defendant’s trial has already concluded,” the Court said. But “a new rule of criminal procedure ordinarily does not apply retroactively to overturn final convictions on federal collateral review.”
“Applying constitutional rules not in existence at the time a conviction became final seriously undermines the principle of finality which is essential to the operation of our criminal justice system,” the Court said. “And a State may not be able to retry some defendants at all because of lost evidence, faulty memory and missing witnesses.”
In Teague v. Lane, decided in 1989, the Court left open the possibility that a new rule of criminal procedure would be retroactive on collateral review if it was determined to be “watershed.”
But “in the 32 years since Teague … the Court has never found that any new procedural rule actually satisfies that purported exception,” the Court said.
“The Court has identified only one pre-Teague procedural rule as watershed: the right to counsel recognized in the Court’s landmark decision in Gideon,” the Court said. “The Court has never identified any other pre-Teague or post-Teague rule as watershed. None.”
“Moreover, the Court has flatly proclaimed on multiple occasions that the watershed exception is unlikely to cover any more new rules,” the Court continued.
“If landmark historic criminal procedure decisions – including Mapp, Miranda, Duncan, Crawford, Batson, and Ramos – do not apply retroactively on federal collateral review, how can any additional rules of criminal procedure apply retroactively on federal collateral review?” the Court asked.
“We think the only candid answer is that none can — that is, no new rules of criminal procedure can satisfy the watershed exception,” the Court answered. “We cannot responsibly continue to suggest otherwise to litigants and courts.”
“Continuing to articulate a theoretical exception that never actually applies in practice offers false hope to defendants, distorts the law, misleads judges, and wastes resources of defense counsel, prosecutors, and courts,” the Court said.
“It is time – probably long past time – to make explicit what has become increasingly apparent to bench and bar over the last 32 years: New procedural rules do not apply retroactively on federal collateral review,” the Court said.
“The Court today need not and does not overrule any post-Teague cases that held the watershed exception satisfied because there are no post-Teague cases that held the watershed exception satisfied,” the Court said.
The Court, in closing, emphasized that new “substantive rules” that alter “the range of conduct or the class of persons that the law punishes” apply on direct review, and also apply retroactively on federal collateral review.
But new procedural rules that alter “only the manner of determining the defendant’s culpability” will apply only on direct review, not retroactively on federal collateral review.
Justice Kagan, joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor, dissented.
“This Court usually confines itself to the issues raised and briefed by the parties,” Kagan said. “No one here asked us to overrule Teague.”
“Seldom has this Court so causally, so off-handedly, tossed aside precedent,” she said.
“For the first time in many decades … those convicted under rules found not to produce fair and reliable verdicts will be left without recourse in federal courts,” she concluded.