Beard v. Banks,
542 U.S. 406 (2004)

Annotate this Case
  • Syllabus  | 
  • Opinion (Clarence Thomas)  | 
  • Dissent (John Paul Stevens)  | 
  • Dissent (David H. Souter)




certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the third circuit

No. 02–1603. Argued February 24, 2004—Decided June 24, 2004

After respondent’s murder conviction and death sentence were upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, this Court decided Mills v. Maryland, 486 U. S. 367, and McKoy v. North Carolina, 494 U. S. 433, in which it held invalid capital sentencing schemes requiring juries to disregard mitigating factors not found unanimously. After respondent’s state postconviction Mills claim was rejected by the State Supreme Court on the merits, he turned to the federal courts. Ultimately, the Third Circuit applied the analytical framework set forth in Teague v. Lane, 489 U. S. 288, under which federal habeas petitioners may not avail themselves of new rules of constitutional criminal procedure outside two narrow exceptions; concluded that Mills did not announce a new rule and therefore could be applied retroactively; and granted respondent relief.

Held: Because Mills announced a new rule of constitutional criminal procedure that does not fall within either Teague exception, its rule cannot be applied retroactively. Pp. 4–14.

   (a) Teague analysis involves a three-step process requiring a court to determine when a defendant’s conviction became final; whether, given the legal landscape at the time the conviction became final, the rule sought to be applied is actually new; and, if so, whether it falls within either of two exceptions to nonretroactivity. P. 4.

   (b) Respondent’s conviction became final before Mills was decided. The normal rule for determining a state conviction’s finality for retroactivity review—when the availability of direct appeal to the state courts has been exhausted and the time for filing a certiorari petition has elapsed or a timely petition has been finally denied—applies here. That the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered the merits of respondent’s Mills claim on collateral review does change his conviction’s finality to a date subsequent to Mills. Pp. 4–6.

   (c) Mills announced a new rule. In reaching its conclusion in Mills and McKoy, this Court relied on a line of cases beginning with Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U. S. 586. Lockett’s general rule that the sentencer must be allowed to consider any mitigating evidence could be thought to support the conclusion in Mills and McKoy that capital sentencing schemes cannot require juries to disregard mitigating factors not found unanimously, but it did not mandate the Mills rule. Each of the cases relied on by Mills (and McKoy) considered only obstructions to the sentencer’s ability to consider mitigating evidence. Mills’ innovation rests with its shift in focus to individual jurors. Moreover, there is no need to guess whether reasonable jurists could have differed as to whether the Lockett line of cases compelled Mills. Four dissenting Justices in Mills reasoned that because nothing prevented the jury from hearing the mitigating evidence, Lockett did not control; and three dissenting Justices in McKoy concluded that Lockett did not remotely support the new focus on individual jurors. Because the Mills rule broke new ground, it applies to respondent on collateral review only if it falls under a Teague exception. Pp. 6–10.

   (d) The Mills rule does not fall within either exception. There is no argument that the first exception applies here. And this Court has repeatedly emphasized the limited scope of the second exception—“ ‘for watershed rules of criminal procedure implicating the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding,’ ” O’Dell v. Netherland, 521 U. S. 151, 157—which “ ‘is clearly meant to apply only to a small core of rules requiring observance of those procedures that … are implicit in the concept of ordered liberty,’ ” ibid. This Court has yet to find a new rule that falls under this exception. In providing guidance as to what might do so, the Court has repeatedly, and only, referred to the right-to-counsel rule of Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U. S. 335, which “altered [the Court’s] understanding of the bedrock procedural elements essential to the fairness of a proceeding,” Sawyer v. Smith, 497 U. S. 227, 242. The Court has not hesitated to hold less sweeping and fundamental rules outside the exception. See, e.g., O’Dell v. Netherland, supra. While Mills and McKoy were decided to avoid potentially arbitrary impositions of the death sentence, the Mills rule has “none of the primacy and centrality of the rule adopted in Gideon,” Saffle v. Parks, 494 U. S. 484, 495. It applies narrowly and works no fundamental shift in the Court’s “ ‘understanding of the bedrock procedural elements’ ”essential to fundamental fairness, O’Dell, supra, at 167. Pp. 10–13.

316 F. 3d 228, reversed and remanded.

   Thomas, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and O’Connor, Scalia, and Kennedy, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Souter, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg, J., joined.

Disclaimer: Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.