Collins v. Youngblood
Annotate this Case
497 U.S. 37 (1990)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Collins v. Youngblood, 497 U.S. 37 (1990)
Collins v. Youngblood
Argued March 19, 1990
Decided June 21, 1990
497 U.S. 37
Respondent was convicted in a Texas state court of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to life imprisonment and a $10,000 fine. After his conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal, he applied for a writ of habeas corpus in state court, arguing that Texas law did not authorize both a fine and prison term for his offense, and thus that his judgment and sentence were void and he was entitled to a new trial. The court, bound by a State Court of Criminal Appeals' decision, recommended that the writ be granted. Before the writ was considered by the Court of Criminal Appeals, however, a new statute was passed allowing an appellate court to reform an improper verdict assessing a punishment not authorized by law. Thus, the Court of Criminal Appeals reformed the verdict by ordering that the fine be deleted and denied the request for a new trial. Arguing that the new Texas law's retroactive application violated the Ex Post Facto Clause of Art. 1, § 10, respondent filed a writ of habeas corpus in Federal District Court, which was denied. The Court of Appeals reversed. Relying on the statement in Thompson v. Utah, 170 U. S. 343, that retroactive procedural statutes violate the Ex Post Facto Clause unless they "leave untouched all the substantial protections with which existing law surrounds the . . . accused," the court held that respondent's right to a new trial under former Texas law was a "substantial protection."
1. Although the rule of Teague v. Lane, 489 U. S. 288 -- which prohibits the retroactive application of new rules to cases on collateral review -- is grounded in important considerations of federal-state relations, it is not jurisdictional in the sense that this Court, despite a limited grant of certiorari, must raise and decide the issue sua sponte. Since Texas has chosen not to rely on Teague, the merits of respondent's claim will be considered. Pp. 497 U. S. 40-41.
2. The application of the Texas statute to respondent is not prohibited by the Ex Post Facto Clause. Pp. 497 U. S. 41-52.
(a) The definition of an ex post facto law as one that (1) punishes as a crime an act previously committed which was innocent when done, (2)
makes more burdensome the punishment for a crime after its commission, or (3) deprives one charged with a crime of any defense available according to law at the time when the act was committed, Beazell v. Ohio, 269 U. S. 167, is faithful to this Court's best knowledge of the original understanding of the Clause: Legislatures may not retroactively alter the definition of crimes or increase the punishment for criminal acts. Respondent concedes that Texas' statute does not fall within the Beazell categories, since it is a procedural change in the law. However, he errs in arguing that this Court's decisions have not limited the Clause's scope to those categories, but have stated more broadly that retroactive legislation contravenes the Clause if it deprives an accused of a "substantial protection" under law existing at the time of the crime, and that the new trial guaranteed by Texas law is such a protection. When cases have described as "procedural" those changes that do not violate the Clause even though they work to the accused's disadvantage, see, e.g., Beazell, supra at 269 U. S. 171, it is logical to presume that "procedural" refers to changes in the procedures by which a criminal case is adjudicated, as opposed to substantive changes in the law. The "substantial protection" discussion in Beazell, Duncan v. Missouri, 152 U. S. 377, 152 U. S. 382-383, and Malloy v. South Carolina, 237 U. S. 180, 237 U. S. 183, has imported confusion into the Clause's interpretation, and should be read to mean that a legislature does not immunize a law from scrutiny under the Clause simply by labeling the law "procedural." It should not be read to adopt without explanation an undefined enlargement of the Clause. Pp. 497 U. S. 41-46.
(b) Kring v. Missouri, 107 U. S. 221, and Thompson v. Utah, supra, are inconsistent with the understanding of the term "ex post facto law" at the time the Constitution was adopted, rely on reasoning that this Court has not followed since Thompson was decided, and have caused confusion in state and lower federal courts about the Clause's scope. Kring and Thompson are therefore overruled. Pp. 497 U. S. 47-52.
882 F.2d 956 (Ca 5 1989), reversed.
REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 497 U. S. 52.