Retroactivity of Melendez-Diaz (Again)

In my last post on this topic, I addressed the “new rule” prong of Teague retroactivity analysis as it applies to Melendez-Diaz. I ended that post by noting that another aspect of retroactivity analysis that has been raised regarding Melendez-Diaz is whether the Teague test applies in North Carolina motion for appropriate relief proceedings in light of Danforth v. Minnesota, 128 S. Ct. 1029 (2008). This post addresses that issue.

As noted in my last post, the Teague anti-retroactivity rule provides that new judge-made rules of criminal procedure are not retroactive unless they are determined to be watershed rules. While the Teague rule governs federal habeas proceedings, Danforth held that Teague does not limit the authority of state courts to give broader effect to new federal rules of criminal procedure in their own post-conviction proceedings than is required by that opinion. Relying on Danforth, some defense lawyers have argued that North Carolina judges now are free to disregard Teague and apply a more permissive retroactivity standard to new federal rules of criminal proceduresuch as Crawford and Melendez-Diaz-in state court motion for appropriate relief proceedings.

One problem with that argument is State v. Zuniga, 336 N.C. 508 (1994). In that case, the North Carolina Supreme Court expressly adopted the Teague test for determining whether new federal rules apply retroactively in state court motion for appropriate relief proceedings. In so ruling it specifically rejected an argument by amici, the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers, that the state retroactivity rule of State v. Rivens, 299 N.C. 385 (1980) (new state rules are presumed to operate retroactively unless there is a compelling reason to make them prospective only) should apply in motion for appropriate relief proceedings. Instead, persuaded by concerns of finality, the court adopted the Teague rule. Although Zuniga is a pre-Danforth case, it is the law in North Carolina. And although the North Carolina Supreme Court might come to a different conclusion if the issue is raised again, the lower courts are bound by that decision. It might be worth noting that the United States Supreme Court came to a different conclusion than the Zuniga court with regard to application of the Teague test to the new federal rule at issue, see Beard v. Banks, 542 U.S. 406 (2004) (Zuniga held that the McKoy rule applied retroactively under Teague; ten years later in Beard, the United States Supreme Court concluded otherwise). However, even if that aspect of Zuniga is no longer good law, Danforth reaffirms the authority of the Zuniga court to adopt the Teague test for purposes of state post-conviction proceedings.

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