Saturday, April 9th, 2005

Circuit Slams the Habeas Door: Booker Not Applicable to Cases that Became Final before January 12, 2005

Guzman v. United States, Docket No. 03-2446-pr (2d Cir. April 8, 2005) (Jacobs, Sotomayor, Hall) (Op. by Jacobs): Disappointing though hardly surprising, the Circuit ruled today that Booker does not apply to any cases that became final before January 12, 2005, the day Booker was decided. For those who prefer the jargon, the Court concluded that the rule established in Booker — described simply as calling for an advisory Guidelines system rather than a binding one (following the Seventh Circuit’s similarly slanted characterization in McReynolds) — is (1) new (i.e., was not “dictated by” either Apprendi or Blakely); (2) procedural (rather than substantive); and (3) not within the “watershed” exception to Teague‘s bar against retroactive application of a new procedural rule to cases that became final before the rule was announced. Little new ground is trod by the opinion; it largely relies on earlier decisions reaching the same result.

Guzman is a particularly loud slam of the habeas door. A good argument could be made, for instance, that it was Blakely that announced the new rule (which Booker simply applies to the Guidelines), and thus that anyone whose case became final after June 24, 2004, could make a Blakely argument in a habeas petition. The universe of such defendants is, granted, small. Under Guzman, however, it becomes practically nonexistent: The only defendants who can benefit from Booker are those whose cases became final after January 12, 2005, and there are likely few among this crowd who suffer a Booker error.

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