WHORTON v. BOCKTING

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
05-595
Petitioner 
Glen Whorton, Director, Nevada Department of Corrections
Respondent 
Marvin Howard Bockting
Advocates
(on behalf of Petitioner)
(Attorneys for Respondent, Counsel of Record)
(argued the cause for Petitioner)
Term:
Facts of the Case 

Marvin Bockting was accused of sexually assaulting his six year old stepdaughter. The girl told a detective about Bockting's crimes against her, but at the trial she became very upset and refused to testify. The judge declared the witness unavailable and allowed the detective to give hearsay testimony on what Bockting's daughter had told him. Bockting was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without having had a chance to cross-examine the only witness against him.

Bockting's appeals in state court were denied. He filed a petition for habeas corpus in federal court, claiming that his Sixth Amendment right to confront his accuser had been violated. During Bockting's appeals, the Supreme Court ruled in Crawford v. Washington that hearsay testimony given outside the court by an unavailable witness is only admissible if the defendant had an opportunity to cross-examine the witness before trial.

Bockting appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Nith Circuit, arguing that Crawford should apply retroactively to his case. The Circuit Court ruled that Crawford had announced a "new rule" of criminal procedure; new rules are normally not applied to cases that were final before the rule was announced. However, the Ninth Circuit held that the rule on hearsay testimony was a "watershed" rule that was fundamental to a fair trial. Under an exception defined by the Supreme Court in Teague v. Lane, watershed rules are applied retroactively.

Question 

Is the Court's decision on the admissibility of hearsay testimony in Crawford v. Washington a watershed rule that applies retroactively?

Conclusion 
Decision: 9 votes for Whorton, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: retroactive application of a constitutional right

No. The Court ruled unanimously "that Crawford announced a 'new rule' of criminal procedure and that this rule does not fall within the Teague exception for watershed rules." Justice Samuel Alito's opinion called the Crawford ruling "flatly inconsistent" with the prior precedents that it overruled. It was therefore a new rule of criminal procedure. However, the ruling failed to meet the Court's two criteria for a watershed rule. Although Crawford was aimed at increasing the accuracy of criminal convictions, it was not absolutely necessary to prevent an "impermissibly large risk of an inaccurate conviction," as was the archetypal watershed ruling Gideon v. Wainwright. The Court acknowledged that the Crawford's holding was "important," but it was not as "profound," "sweeping," or "central[]" as the Gideon watershed rule, which had been "essential to the fairness" of the judicial system. Since the Crawford ruling did not meet the criteria for a watershed rule, the Court ruled that the decision's restrictions on hearsay testimony did not apply retroactively.

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WHORTON v. BOCKTING. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 25 November 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2006/2006_05_595>.
WHORTON v. BOCKTING, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2006/2006_05_595 (last visited November 25, 2014).
"WHORTON v. BOCKTING," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed November 25, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2006/2006_05_595.