Whorton v. Bockting

PETITIONER: Glen Whorton, Director, Nevada Department of Corrections
RESPONDENT: Marvin Howard Bockting
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 05-595
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 549 US 406 (2007)
GRANTED: May 15, 2006
ARGUED: Nov 01, 2006
DECIDED: Feb 28, 2007

ADVOCATES:
Franny A. Forsman - Attorneys for Respondent, Counsel of Record
George J. Chanos - on behalf of Petitioner
Irving L. Gornstein - argued the cause for Petitioner

Facts of the case

Marvin Bockting was accused of sexually assaulting his six year old stepdaughter. The girl told a detective about Bockting's crimes against her, but at the trial she became very upset and refused to testify. The judge declared the witness unavailable and allowed the detective to give hearsay testimony on what Bockting's daughter had told him. Bockting was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without having had a chance to cross-examine the only witness against him.

Bockting's appeals in state court were denied. He filed a petition for habeas corpus in federal court, claiming that his Sixth Amendment right to confront his accuser had been violated. During Bockting's appeals, the Supreme Court ruled in Crawford v. Washington that hearsay testimony given outside the court by an unavailable witness is only admissible if the defendant had an opportunity to cross-examine the witness before trial.

Bockting appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Nith Circuit, arguing that Crawford should apply retroactively to his case. The Circuit Court ruled that Crawford had announced a "new rule" of criminal procedure; new rules are normally not applied to cases that were final before the rule was announced. However, the Ninth Circuit held that the rule on hearsay testimony was a "watershed" rule that was fundamental to a fair trial. Under an exception defined by the Supreme Court in Teague v. Lane, watershed rules are applied retroactively.

Question

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

Media for Whorton v. Bockting

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 01, 2006 in Whorton v. Bockting

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 28, 2007 in Whorton v. Bockting

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Alito has the opinion this morning in No. 05-595, Whorton versus Bockting.

Samuel A. Alito, Jr.:

Now this case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

New rules of criminal procedure announced by this court do not apply to cases that are already final on direct review unless they fit within a narrow exception set forth in Teague versus Lane namely where the new rule constitutes a watershed rule of criminal procedure that implicates the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding.

The questions presented in this case are whether Crawford versus Washington which held that the Sixth Amendment forbids the admission of uncrossed examined testimonial hearsay announced the new rule and whether it is a watershed rule.

The respondent in this case was convicted in the Nevada Court for sexual assault on a minor.

Out of court statements made by the victim were admitted at trial against him.

The Nevada Supreme Court held that this did not violate respondent’s confrontation right and in reaching this conclusion the states Supreme Court apply the standards set out in what was then the governing Confrontation Clause precedent Ohio versus Roberts.

After respondent’s conviction became final on direct review Roberts was overruled in Crawford.

A Federal District Court denied respondent’s application for a writ of habeas corpus but the Court of Appeals held the Crawford applies retroactively to cases on collateral review.

This decision conflicted with those of the other Courts of Appeals that had addressed this issue and we therefore granted certiorari and we now reverse.

We hold today that the rule announcing Crawford is a new rule because it was not dictated by Precedent in existence at the time when respondent’s conviction became final.

On the contrary Crawford overruled what was then the governing precedent.

We further hold that the Crawford rule is not a watershed rule implicating “the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceedings.”

First, the prior governing precedent did not present an impermissibly large risk of an inaccurate conviction.

Crawford overall affect on the accuracy of fact finding in criminal trials is difficult to access and in any event any resulting improvement inaccuracy is insufficient to qualify under the Teague exception.

Second, Crawford did not alter our understanding of the bedrock procedural elements necessary to the fairness of a proceeding.

Our cases to date have identified one rule that met this test the rule in Gideon versus Wainwright and the Crawford rule while important is not in the same category as Gideon.

The opinion of the court is unanimous.