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Idaho Limits Retroactivity

One of the main sources of reversal of judgments in capital cases has been the inability of the U.S. Supreme Court to agree with itself from one year to the next what the Constitution requires and what it forbids. Cases tried correctly under the law in effect at the time of the trial can be reversed years or even decades later after the rules have changed.

Since 1989, the case of Teague v. Lane has been important in limiting the damage from what Justice Scalia called this "annually improvised" body of jurisprudence, at least in federal court. However, in the 2008 case of Danforth v. Minnesota, the high court clarified that states could give new rules broader retroactive effect if they wished. (As an all-weather federalist, I think Danforth is correct, even though it may lead to unwarranted results.) The Idaho Supreme Court today decided to stick with Teague.

In 1990, the Supreme Court held in Walton v. Arizona that it is fully consistent with the Sixth Amendment to have the jury simply find guilt of first-degree murder and have the judge find the aggravating factors and decide on the death sentence. In 2002, in Ring v. Arizona, the Court did a collective Gilda Radner impression ("oh, never mind") and held that the jury has to find the factors that make the defendant eligible for the death penalty. The massive reliance of the states on the prior rule was not even mentioned in the opinion, even though the Court has said in other cases that reliance is a primary factor in a stare decisis analysis.

Among the states betrayed by the Walton-Ring switch was Idaho. The Supreme Court held in Schriro v. Summerlin that Ring is not retroactive under Teague. After Danforth, the Court sent five Idaho cases back to the Idaho Supreme Court to reconsider their Ring claims. Today's decision is in response to that remand.

We expressly adopt the retroactivity test from Teague for criminal cases on collateral review. We conclude that, applying the Teague standard, the rule announced in Ring will not be given retroactive application in the instant cases. Because we do not retroactively apply Ring, we decline to address whether I.C. ยง 19-2719(5)(c) requires this Court to dismiss Petitioners' appeals or whether the statute is unconstitutional. In order to clarify the standards by which we evaluate whether new rules of law are to be given retroactive effect, we examine federal decisions addressing retroactivity, other states' analyses of retroactivity since Danforth and our past decisions considering retroactivity.

The opinion does serve notice that the Idaho Supreme Court will not necessarily define "new rule" as broadly as the U.S. Supreme Court. Ring certainly is new, though, as it overruled a precedent squarely on point.

Congrats to LaMont Anderson and the Idaho AG's Office.


The panel is Rymer, Gould, and Bybee, so I would expect a reasonable panel decision. But then there is the rehearing en banc petition....

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