Whorton v. Bockting

Facts of the Case

At Bockting’s trial in a Nevada state court for sexual assault on his 6-year-old stepdaughter, the trial court determined that the child was too distressed to testify and allowed the accused’s wife and a police detective to recount the child’s out-of-court statements about the assaults,as provided for under state law. Bockting was convicted and sentenced to prison. On direct appeal, the Nevada Supreme Court applied

Question

Is the Court’s decision on the admissibility of hearsay testimony in Crawford v. Washington a watershed rule that applies retroactively?

CONCLUSION

No. The Court ruled unanimously that Crawford announced a ‘new rule’ of criminal procedure and that this rule does not fall within the Teague exception for watershed rules. Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion called the Crawford ruling flatly inconsistent with the prior precedents that it overruled. It was therefore a new rule of criminal procedure. However, the ruling failed to meet the Court’s two criteria for a watershed rule. Although Crawford was aimed at increasing the accuracy of criminal convictions, it was not absolutely necessary to prevent an impermissibly large risk of an inaccurate conviction, as was the archetypal watershed ruling Gideon v. Wainwright . The Court acknowledged that the Crawford’s holding was important, but it was not as profound, sweeping, or central[] as the Gideon watershed rule, which had been essential to the fairness of the judicial system. Since the Crawford ruling did not meet the criteria for a watershed rule, the Court ruled that the decision’s restrictions on hearsay testimony did not apply retroactively.

Case Information

  • Citation: 549 US 406 (2007)
  • Granted: May 15, 2006
  • Argued: Nov 1, 2006
  • Decided Feb 28, 2007