Griffith v. Kentucky
479 U.S. 314 (1987)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U.S. 314 (1987)

Griffith v. Kentucky

No. 85-5221

Argued October 14, 1986

Decided January 13, 1987

479 U.S. 314

Syllabus

In Batson v. Kentucky,476 U. S. 79, the Court ruled that a state criminal defendant could establish a prima facie case of racial discrimination violative of the Fourteenth Amendment, based on the prosecution's use of peremptory challenges to strike members of the defendant's race from the jury venire, and that, once the defendant had made the prima facie showing, the burden shifted to the prosecution to come forward with a neutral explanation for those challenges. These cases concern the question whether that ruling applies to cases pending on direct review or not yet final when Batson was decided. In No. 85-5221, petitioner's robbery conviction in a Kentucky state court was affirmed by the Kentucky Supreme Court, which rejected petitioner's claim that the prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges to strike prospective black jurors deprived petitioner, a black person, of guaranteed equal protection. Similarly, in No. 85-5731, petitioner's conviction in Federal District Court on narcotics charges was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, which rejected petitioner's claim that the prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges to exclude black jurors, combined with his call to the jury clerk, violated the right of petitioner, a black person, to an impartial jury. The petitions for certiorari in both cases were filed in this Court before Batson was decided.

Held: A new rule for the conduct of criminal prosecutions, such as the ruling in Batson, applies retroactively to all cases, state or federal, pending on direct review or not yet final, with no exception for cases in which the new rule constitutes a "clear break" with the past. Pp. 479 U. S. 320-328.

(a) Failure to apply a newly declared constitutional rule to criminal cases pending on direct review violates basic norms of constitutional adjudication. After this Court has announced a new rule in the case selected for review, the integrity of judicial review requires the Court to apply that rule to all similar cases pending on direct review. In addition, selective application of a new rule violates the principle of treating similarly situated defendants the same. Pp. 479 U. S. 320-326.

(b) An exception to the general principle that a new rule governing criminal procedure should be retroactive to cases pending on direct review,

Page 479 U. S. 315

based solely on the fact that the new rule is a "clear break" with the past, is inappropriate. The principle that this Court does not disregard current law when it adjudicates a case pending before it on direct review applies regardless of the specific characteristics of the new rule announced by the Court. Further, the use of a "clear break" exception creates the same problem of not treating similarly situated defendants the same. The fact that the new rule may constitute a clear break with the past has no bearing on the "actual inequity that results" when only one of many similarly situated defendants receives the benefit of the new rule. Pp. 479 U. S. 326-328.

No. 85-5221, and No. 85-5731, 770 F.2d 912, reversed and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, POWELL, STEVENS, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 479 U. S. 328. REHNQUIST, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 479 U. S. 329. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and O'CONNOR, J., joined, post, p. 479 U. S. 329.

Page 479 U. S. 316

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