Yates v. Aiken,
484 U.S. 211 (1988)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Yates v. Aiken, 484 U.S. 211 (1988)

Yates v. Aiken

No. 86-6060

Argued December 2, 1987

Decided January 12, 1988

484 U.S. 211


Petitioner was tried in state court on charges of murder and armed robbery stemming from a 1981 store robbery during which his accomplice and the storekeeper's mother were killed in a fight after petitioner left the store. Although petitioner testified that the mother had not even entered the store before he left, and that he had not intended to kill or harm anyone, the jury was instructed "that malice is implied or presumed from the use of a deadly weapon." After his conviction and death sentence were affirmed by the South Carolina Supreme Court, petitioner sought a writ of habeas corpus from that court, arguing, inter alia, that the burden-shifting instruction given at trial was unconstitutional under Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U. S. 510. While the habeas corpus application was pending, petitioner also called to the state court's attention this Court's subsequent decision in Francis v. Franklin, 471 U. S. 307. After this Court summarily vacated the state court's summary denial of the writ and remanded the case "for further consideration in light of Francis," the state court, although acknowledging that the jury instruction suffered from the same infirmities addressed in Francis, denied relief on state law grounds without considering whether Francis might apply retroactively, and without discussing Sandstrom.

Held: As a matter of federal law, petitioner's conviction cannot stand in light of Francis. Pp. 484 U. S. 215-218.

(a) Sandstrom, which had been decided before petitioner's trial took place, established that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits jury instructions that have the effect of relieving the State of its burden of proof on the critical question of intent in a criminal prosecution. Francis was merely an application of that governing principle. Accordingly, respondents' argument that a newly announced constitutional rule should not generally be applied retroactively to cases pending on collateral review cannot operate to deny petitioner the benefit of Francis. That argument simply does not apply where the "new" holding is merely an application of a rule that was well settled at the time of conviction. Pp. 484 U. S. 215-217.

(b) The State's contention that it has the authority to establish the scope of its own habeas corpus proceedings and to refuse therein to apply a new rule of federal constitutional law retroactively is rejected. since Francis did not announce a new rule and since the state court's opinion

Page 484 U. S. 212

does not place any limit on the issues it will entertain in collateral proceedings. Having considered the merits of the federal claim, that court has the duty to grant the relief that federal law requires. Pp. 484 U. S. 217-218.

290 S.C. 231, 349 S.E.2d 84, reversed and remanded.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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