Whorton v. Bockting
Bockting sued the Director of the Nevada Department of Corrections for a writ of habeas corpus, claiming that the court denied his Sixth Amendment right to confront his accuser at trial. Bockting was convicted of three counts of sexually assaulting a minor and sentenced to life imprisonment. The only witness in the trial was Bockting's six year old stepdaughter, who became upset and uncommunicative during her testimony at trial. The judge declared that the girl was unavailable for trial, but admitted her hearsay statements to a detective as evidence. Bockting appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court on the grounds that he was unable to cross-examine the only witness in his trial, but the court denied his appeal. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari, vacated the sentence, and remanded the case back to the Nevada Supreme Court, which again upheld the trial court's ruling.
Bockting sought habeas relief in a federal district court, which denied his petition. He then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), a federal court can only grant a petition for habeas corpus if the state court's decision was contrary to clearly established federal law, was an unreasonable application of federal law, or relied upon an unreasonable interpretation of evidence. During the habeas process, the United States Supreme Court held in Crawford v. Washington that testimony given outside of the courtroom can only be admitted at trial if the witness is unavailable and the defendant had a chance to cross-examine the witness. The issue before the Ninth Circuit, therefore, was whether the rule announced in Crawford should be applied "retroactively" to exclude the out-of-court testimony of Bockting's stepdaughter.
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's ruling, granting Bockting's writ of habeas corpus. First, it determined that Crawfordannounced a "new rule," which, in ordinary circumstances, could not be applied in a habeas petition such as Bockting's. However, there are exceptions to the inapplicability of new rules, including if the new rule is a "“watershed"” rule of criminal procedure. Second, the Ninth Circuit held that theCrawford rule was a watershed rule because it was (1) "fundamental to our legal regime," and (2) seriously implicates the accuracy of the verdict. Thus, the court applied Crawford retroactively.
(1) Whether, in direct conflict with the published opinions of the Second, Sixth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuits, the Ninth Circuit erred in holding that this court's decision in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004) regarding the admissibility of testimonial hearsay evidence under the Sixth Amendment, applies retroactively to collateral review.
(2) Whether the Ninth Circuit's ruling that Crawford applies retroactively to cases on collateral review violates this court's ruling inTeague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989).
(3) Whether, in direct conflict with the published decisions of the Fourth and Seventh Circuits, the Ninth Circuit erred in holding that 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) and (2) adopted the Teague exceptions for private conduct which is beyond criminal proscription and watershed rules.