Beard v. Banks

PETITIONER: Jeffrey A. Beard, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, et al.
RESPONDENT: George E. Banks
LOCATION: Polk County Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 02-1603
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 542 US 406 (2004)
GRANTED: Sep 30, 2003
ARGUED: Feb 24, 2004
DECIDED: Jun 24, 2004

Albert J. Flora, Jr. - argued the cause for Respondent
Kent S. Scheidegger - for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation as amicus curiae urging reversal
Ronald Eisenberg - argued the cause for Petitioners

Facts of the case

In 1982, George Banks was sentenced to death in Pennsylvania for the murder of 13 people. After the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the conviction, Banks unsuccessfully sought a writ of habeas corpus in federal district court. Reversing the district court, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals found Banks's death sentence unconstitutional. The court held that jury instructions during sentencing led jurors to believe they could not vote against the death penalty unless they all agreed on mitigating evidence (that is, evidence that would have inclined them to vote against the death penalty). This, the court reasoned, violated the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Mills v. Maryland (1988). The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision (in part) and remanded it. Pointing to its opinion in Teague v. Lane (1989) and the fact that Mills was decided after Banks's conviction, the Court reasoned that the appeals court did not consider whether Mills could be "retroactively" applied. The Third Circuit Court - reviewing its ruling - did not change its original opinion. It found that "Mills did not announce a new rule of constitutional law for retroactivity purposes" and that Banks's death sentence was unconstitutional.


  1. Does the Supreme Court's decision in Mills v. Maryland (1988) create a new rule of law that cannot be applied retroactively to award sentencing relief to a prisoner whose conviction became final before Mills was announced? 2. If Mills applies retroactively and a state supreme court rejects a Mills challenge because the jury was not told that it must unanimously agree on mitigating factors, is that decision consistent with Supreme Court precedent?

Media for Beard v. Banks

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 24, 2004 in Beard v. Banks

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 24, 2004 in Beard v. Banks

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court of in No. 02-1603, Beard against Banks will be announced by Justice Thomas.

Clarence Thomas:

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

More than 20 years ago a jury convicted respondent, George E. Banks of 12 counts of first degree murder, and the Trial Court sentenced him to death.

Respondent’s conviction became final in October 1987 roughly eight months before, this Court handed down its decision in Mills v. Maryland.

In Mills and McKoy versus North Carolina, this Court held invalid capital sentencing schemes that require juries to disregard mitigating factors not found unanimously.

Respondent pursued state postconviction relieve on the theory that the instructions and verdict form given to the jury in this case violated the Mills’ principle.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected this claim on the merits.

Respondent then turned to the Federal Courts pressing the same theory.

The District Court denied relief but the Court of Appeals reversed.

We summarily reversed the Court of Appeals’ holding however, because the Court of Appeals did not apply the retroactivity analysis set forth in Teague v. lane.

On remand, the Court of Appeals determined that Mills was not a new rule of constitutional criminal procedure at the time respondent’s conviction became final.

The Court of Appeals then reinstated the remainder of its previous opinion and again granted respondent relief from his death sentence.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Under Teague the determination whether a constitutional rule of criminal procedure applies to a case on collateral review involves a three-step process.

First, the court must determine when the defendant’s conviction became final; second, the court must ascertain the legal landscape as at then existed and ask whether the constitution as interpreted by that precedent compels the rule, that is the court must decide whether the rule is actually new; finally, if the rule is new, the court must consider whether it falls within either of two exemptions to non-retroactivity.

We conclude that respondent’s conviction became final in 1987.

The legal landscape as of that time consisted of Lockett versus Ohio, Eddings versus Oklahoma, and related cases.

These cases held that the sentencer could not be precluded from considering mitigating evidence.

The Court in mills focused for the first time on individual jurors rather that the sentencer as a unit.

We think it is clear that reasonable jurors could have differed as to whether the Lockett principle compelled Mills.

Mills broke new ground and the Mills rule is therefore, new.

Neither of Teague's exceptions apply here.

The second exception, the only one at issue in this case, is for watershed rules of criminal procedure implicating the fundamental fairness and accuracy of criminal proceeding.

We have repeatedly emphasized the limited scope of this exception, explaining that it is clearly meant to apply only to a small core of rules requiring observance of those procedures that are implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.

In providing guidance as to what might fall within this exception, we have referred to the rule of Gideon v. Wainwright right to counsel and only this rule.

By contrast, we have not hesitated to hold that less sweeping in fundamental rules do not fall within Teague's second exception. We have recognized that avoidance of potentially arbitrary impositions of the death sentences motivated the Court in Mills and McKoy.

But because all of our Eighth Amendment jurisprudence concerning capital sentencing is directed toward the enhancement of reliability and accuracy in some sense, the fact that a new rule removes some remote possibility of arbitrary infliction of the death sentence does not suffice to bring it within Teague's second exception.

The Mills rule has none of the primacy and centrality of the rule adopted in Gideon.

The rule applies narrowly and works no fundamental shift in our understanding of the bedrock procedural element essential to fundamental fairness.

We conclude that the Mills rule does not fall within the second Teague exemption.