[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] ruled Wednesday that its earlier decision in Crawford v. Washington [text; Duke Law case backgrounder], which established that out-of-court statements are inadmissible unless the witness is unavailable and the defendant has an opportunity to cross-examine her, does not apply retroactively. In Whorton v. Bockting [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report], Bockting was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to life imprisonment based on the statements of the sole witness to police. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion text, PDF], however, in Bockting's habeas proceeding that Crawford applied retroactively because it is a watershed rule of criminal procedure that provides a fundamental principle affecting the outcomes of cases.
The Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit, reasoning that its decision in Crawford "announced a 'new rule' of criminal procedure and that this rule does not fall within the Teague exception for watershed rules." In order for a rule of criminal procedure to be deemed a "watershed" rule, it must "implicat[e] the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding" - that is "the rule must be necessary to prevent 'an "'impermissibly large risk'"' of an inaccurate conviction. [citations removed] Second, the rule must 'alter our understanding of the bedrock procedural elements essential to the fairness of a proceeding.'" Read the Court's unanimous opinion [text] per Justice Alito.