Thursday, May 27th, 2021

Supreme Court overrules the “watershed rule of criminal procedure” portion of Teague v. Lane.

The issue in Edwards v. Vannoy, decided May 17, 2021, was whether the Supreme Court’s decision in Ramos v. Louisiana, 140 S. Ct. 1390 (2020), will apply retroactively to cases on federal collateral review.  Ramos is the case which decided that unanimous jury verdicts are required in state felony cases, thus outlawing the non-unanimous jury practices that existed in only two states – Louisiana and Oregon.  In a 6-to-3 vote, the Supreme Court decided against retroactive application, which means, as Justice Kagan tells us in dissent, that Mr. Edwards, unlike Mr. Ramos, “will serve the rest of is life in prison based on a 10-to-2 jury verdict.”

As many of us recall, when the Supreme Court promulgates a new rule of criminal procedure, it applies not just to future cases but also to cases that are already on direct appeal.  See Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U.S. 314 (1987).  However, for cases where the conviction was already final, a different rule applies.  The Court held in Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989), that only two classes of decisions are retroactive on collateral review: new substantive rules, for example a rule that particular conduct cannot constitutionally be criminalized, and new procedural rules that constitute a “watershed” rule of criminal procedure.  However, according to Justice Kavanaugh’s count in the majority opinion, in the 32 years since Teague, the Court “has never found that any new procedural rule actually satisfies that purported exception” (emphasis in original).  And he certainly wasn’t going to start doing that now.

Most of the majority opinion consists of recounting all the groundbreaking criminal law decisions that the Court has refused to apply retroactively to collateral review.  The opinion then states that “the Court’s retroactivity precedents taken together raise a legitimate question: If landmark and historic criminal procedure decisions – including Mapp, Miranda, Duncan [v. Louisiana], Crawford, Batson, and now Ramos – do not apply retroactively on federal collateral review, how can any additional new rules of criminal procedure apply retroactively?”  Naturally, “the only candid answer is that none can.”  The majority therefore ends the “empty promise” of watershed rules and holds, “New procedural rules do not apply retroactively on federal collateral review.”  So it’s RIP for that part of Teague.

Mr. Caniglia sued for damages for the violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.  The district court granted summary judgment to the officers.  The First Circuit affirmed, solely on the ground that the entry of the home and seizure of the guns fell within a “community caretaking exception” to the warrant requirement.  Accordingly, the Circuit did not consider the issues of consent by Mr. Caniglia’s wife; whether there were exigent circumstances present; or whether any state law permitted this seizure as part of a mental health intervention.

In a unanimous opinion by Justice Thomas, the Supreme Court reversed.  The Court pointed out once again theat the”very core” of the Fourth Amendment is the right to be free of unreasonable police intrusion of one’s own home.  There are exceptions, such as a search pursuant to a valid warrant or by consent or when certain exigent circumstances are present, such as the need to render emergency assistance.  However, the First Circuit’s “community caretaking rule” “goes beyond anything this Court has recognized.”  Although the Court ruled, in Cady v. Dombowski, 413 U.S. 433 (1973), that the police can search an impounded, abandoned, or wrecked car to safeguard the community, “what is reasonable for vehicles is different from what is reasonable for homes.”  The Court declined to create a new exception that would justify warrantless searches and seizures in the home.

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