Are state courts compelled to use the federal retroactivity standards outlined by the United States Supreme Court in Teague v. Lane to determine the retroactivity of a new federal rule of criminal procedure, or may the state courts devise their own standards for determining retroactivity?
Stephen Danforth was convicted of first degree criminal sexual misconduct in a Minnesota state criminal trial that included videotaped testimonial evidence from Danforth's victim. After Danforth's conviction became final, the United States Supreme Court found that use of such evidence violated a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against him. But the Court later found this decision did not apply retroactively to convictions finalized before the decision was announced. The court made this decision using Supreme Court retroactivity standards. Danforth now asks the Supreme Court to decide whether a state post-conviction court can use state retroactivity standards to apply a new Supreme Court decision on criminal procedure to a final conviction, or if it must use the retroactivity standards the Supreme Court has established. This decision will clarify the boundaries between state and federal authority in state post-conviction proceedings that address federal questions.
Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties
Are state supreme courts required to use the standard announced in Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989), to determine whether United States Supreme Court decisions apply retroactively to state-court criminal cases, or may a state court apply state-law- or state-constitution-based retroactivity tests that afford application of Supreme Court decisions to a broader class of criminal defendants than the class defined by Teague?
The United States Supreme Court must determine whether state courts can use state standards to decide whether a new Supreme Court rule of criminal procedure will apply retroactively to final cases on state post-conviction review. A decision that states can use their own standards will give the states more freedom and responsibility while creating some uncertainty about the finality of certain criminal convictions. If the Supreme Court holds that state courts must, instead, use the Court's Teague retroactivity standard in these instances will constrain state authority and eliminate a potential avenue for relief for persons convicted under constitutionally suspect procedures.
The outcome, in this case, will turn in part on whether the Court believes retroactivity is part of, or closely linked to, the federal rule to which it applies. If the Court believes it is, it is more likely to impose Teague's standards on the states. If the Court sees retroactivity as a separate procedural issue, it is likely to leave retroactivity decisions to state discretion. Written by:
Edited by: Richard Beaulieu
The authors would like to thank Professors John Blume and Kevin Clermont for their invaluable insights into this case.
- Brief Amicus Curiae of the American Civil Liberties Union, et al., in Support of Petitioner, Danforth v. Minnesota (No. 06-8273)
- Brief of Amicus Curiae National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Supporting Petitioner, Danforth v. Minnesota (No. 06-8273)
- Brief of Amicus Curiae of the States of Alaska, et al., in Support of Respondent, Danforth v. Minnesota (No. 06-8273)
- Brief of Kansas the Amici States in Support of Neither Party, Danforth v. Minnesota (No. 06-8273)