U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court Debate Over Retroactivity Leaves Lawyers Silent

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Justices debated how far states can go in making U.S. Supreme Court decisions retroactive during oral arguments yesterday (PDF) in the case of a man challenging his conviction because out-of-court statements were used to convict him.

The petitioner wants the court’s 2004 confrontation clause ruling in Crawford v. Washington to apply to his 1999 trial, Law.com reports.

Law.com says the issue is about “states’ power to apply U.S. Supreme Court decisions to state criminal procedures using a retroactivity standard broader than the federal one.”

SCOTUSblog, in turn, puts the issue this way: “If the Supreme Court recognizes a new right, but says some people do not get to benefit from it, can state courts say, ‘Oh, yes, they do’? Put as lawyers would, the issue is: If the Supreme Court recognizes a new rule of criminal procedure, but says it will not apply retroactively, are state courts free to say that—at least in our state—it will apply to cases that were final before the ruling came down?”

SCOTUSblog reports that the debate among the justices was so spirited that it left the lawyers at the podium silent for “a noticeable spell.” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. noted the silence when he jokingly told the quiet lawyers, “I think you’re handling these questions very well.”

The case is Danforth v. Minnesota.

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