Lindh v. Murphy

LOCATION:Camp Newfound Owatonna

DOCKET NO.: 96-6298
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 521 US 320 (1997)
ARGUED: Apr 14, 1997
DECIDED: Jun 23, 1997

James S. Liebman – on behalf of the Petitioner
Sally L. Wellman – on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Aaron Lindh was convicted on multiple charges of murder and attempted murder in Wisconsin. Arguing that the Confrontation Clause was violated when the trial court barred him from questioning the motives of the State’s psychiatrist, Lindh was denied relief on direct appeal. Lindh’s subsequent federal habeas corpus application was also denied. After Lindh appealed again, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 amended the federal habeas statute. Following an en banc rehearing to consider the Act’s impact, the Court of Appeals held that applying the new version of the law to pending cases would not have a retroactive effect because it would not attach new legal consequences to events preceding the Act’s enactment.


Does the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which amended the previous federal habeas statute, govern habeas applications in non-capital cases that were pending when the Act was enacted?

Media for Lindh v. Murphy

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – April 14, 1997 in Lindh v. Murphy

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 23, 1997 in Lindh v. Murphy

The opinion of the Court in No. 96-6298, Lindh against Murphy will be announced by Justice Souter.

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

The petitioner, Aaron Lindh, was convicted of murder in Wisconsin State Court and after fruitless appeals, he filed a petition for habeas corpus in the United States District Court arguing that he had been denied his constitutional right to confront one of the witnesses against him at his trial.

That petition was denied by the District Court and he appealed.

While Lindh’s appeal was in progress, however, Congress passed and the President signed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 which changed the legal standard applicable to federal habeas corpus petitions.

The Court of Appeals then considered whether the new act applied to Lindh ultimately determining that it did so apply even though it had been passed after Lindh had filed his petition.

Applying the new act standard, the Court of Appeals then affirmed the District Court’s denial of the petition on the merits.

In an opinion filed today with the Clerk of Court, we reverse the judgment of the Seventh Circuit and hold that the relevant portion of the new act does not apply to habeas corpus petitions that were already pending on the date that the new statute went into effect.

Our reasoning depends upon rather close textual analysis.

Even a summary of which delivered from the bench would reduce this courtroom to deep sleep, I therefore follow the example set for many years by Justice White and — and refer those interested to the written opinion.

The — the Chief Justice has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Scalia, Justice Kennedy, and Justice Thomas joined.