Butler v. McKellar

LOCATION: Congress

DOCKET NO.: 88-6677
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 494 US 407 (1990)
ARGUED: Oct 30, 1989
DECIDED: Mar 05, 1990

John H. Blume - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Butler v. McKellar

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 30, 1989 in Butler v. McKellar

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Number 88-6677, Horace Butler v. Kenneth D. McKellar.

Mr. Blume.

John H. Blume:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The question presented in this case is whether Arizona v. Roberson created a new rule of law for retroactivity purposes.

The court of appeals held, with five judges dissenting from the denial of rehearing en banc, that although the facts of this case were not distinguishable from Roberson, that Roberson was not applicable because it was not the law at the time of Mr. Butler's trial in 1980.

Since the court of appeals' decision, the law of retroactivity has changed somewhat.

In Teague v. Lane, this Court held that new rules of criminal procedure do not apply to cases which are final on direct review at the time the new rule is established.

However, common to all of this Court's retroactivity decisions, is the following principle which is dispositive to this case: when a decision of this Court had done nothing more than apply subtle precedent to a different fact situation, no real question arises as to retroactivity.

Because Arizona v. Roberson was nothing more than a straightforward application of Edwards v. Arizona, to a slightly different set of facts, it applies retroactively.

The first place to look, I believe, is the, this Court's decision in Roberson.

In the first paragraph of the majority opinion, the Court stated that the Attorney General of Arizona asked us to craft an exception to the rule of Edwards for cases in which the police wish to interrogate an individual about charges which are unrelated to the crime for which the person initially invoked the right to counsel.

This Court rejected, by a vote of six to two, the Attorney General's proffer distinction of Edwards, and the opinion clearly reveals that this Court believed that Roberson was directly within the logical compass of Edwards.

Thus, as was true in Yates v. Aiken, another South Carolina retroactivity case decided by this Court two terms ago, this case does not involve a new rule of law.

Antonin Scalia:

But every... every decision of ours is... almost every decision of ours is within the logical compass of another decision.

I mean, we could have... if that is all we meant, we could have been a lot clearer in Teague, and we could have just said that it doesn't apply retroactively if it overrules an earlier line of cases, rather than just following the logic of that earlier line.

We didn't say that.

We said it has to be compelled by the earlier cases.

John H. Blume:

The hard facts of Teague, of course, do involve a situation which would require overruling, and the language... however, of course, I think Teague must go beyond that.

I agree with Justice Scalia, with you to that extent.

However, the language of Teague, I believe, was that if the result is not dictated by prior precedent.

Roberson certainly is dictated by the rule of Edwards, and in essence what the State of Arizona asked was this Court to craft an exception to the rule, not to extend the rule, but to create an exception, and this Court declined to do so.

I think if this Court determines that any time there is an intellectually tenable distinction of one of your cases, that the resolution and rejection of that distinction creates a new rule, then you will in effect be skewing the constitutional balance, and putting a premium on the most grudging interpretation of everything this Court holds, rather than a more faithful interpretation.

Antonin Scalia:

What... let's consider the rationality, the reason we sought to draw the line.

The reason we sought to draw it, I thought, was that we came to the conclusion that the main purpose of habeas is to make sure that the state courts are behaving lawfully and doing their best, you know, to follow federal precedent.

Now, you think they are behaving unlawfully whenever they would, let's say, reject... well, let's use the term exception, reject a perfectly plausible claim for an exception that they thought we might accept.

Would that--

John H. Blume:

I think the purpose underlying the rule is does the state have a legitimate, essentially reliance interest, in expecting that the decision will be different.

If the definition of what is a new rule is drawn too narrowly, then essentially the states will have an incentive to offer whatever distinctions they have of any case, rather... that are beyond the hard facts of a particular holding, rather than applying the decision more faithfully.

For example, Edwards contemplates that the police will conduct their behavior in conformity with it.

If they don't, then we expect prosecutors will not offer those confessions, and if they do the state judges won't admit them.