Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1-1-2012

Comments

In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court in Teague v. Lane held that a state prisoner seeking post-conviction relief in federal court could not base his claim on a “new rule” established in a Supreme Court case decided after his conviction became final. In 1990, the Illinois Supreme Court in People v. Flowers explicitly adopted the Teague approach and similarly held that an Illinois prisoner seeking post-conviction relief in state court could not base his claim on a “new rule” established in a state supreme court case decided after his conviction became final. Thus, for state post-conviction review, the Illinois Supreme Court adopted the same “nonretroactivity” rule the U.S. Supreme Court created for post-conviction review.

This Article contends that the Illinois Supreme Court's adoption of the Teague rule was based on a woeful misunderstanding of the most basic principles of federalism. The U.S. Supreme Court's explicit goal in Teague had nothing to do with reaching the result that would deliver the most justice to Mr. Teague. Rather, the Supreme Court viewed the case in terms of establishing the proper respect federal courts must give to the final judgments of state courts. The U.S. Supreme Court held that, in reviewing a habeas corpus petition from a state prisoner, principles of federalism--here, comity and deference towards state court judgments--trumped Mr. Teague's individual concerns. Teague involved the proper balance between the federal court system and the state court system, not issues within a state court system itself.

Drawing on the work of political scientist Hugh Heclo, this Article contends that a distinction must be made between opinions that are written with an “institutional” goal (i.e., providing justice for an individual party) and opinions written with an “organizational” goal (i.e., guaranteeing proper relations between state courts and federal courts). As this Article demonstrates, the Illinois Supreme Court in Flowers mistakenly applied Teague as if it were an “institutional” decision, when it was actually an “organizational” decision. Because Teague only deals with problems between federal and state court systems, it has no relevance to Flowers, a case concerned exclusively with a problem contained in a single state court system. It is time to re-examine and reject the rule in Flowers.

Part I of this Article discusses the legal and historical background of retroactivity in post-conviction review. Part II provides three reasons why the Flowers court inappropriately adopted the Teague rule: first, Teague involved relations between the state and federal courts and has no relevance to proceedings within a state system; second, on a related point using Hugh Heclo's terminology, Teague was an “organizational” case concerned with federal/state relations and had no relevance to the Illinois court system's “institutional” concern of providing justice to individual criminal defendants; and third, the interest in “finality” is not a strong enough reason for Illinois to deny favorable retroactive rulings to prisoners seeking relief in post-conviction proceedings. Part III considers a corollary to the Flowers/Teague rule: if a new rule cannot be applied retroactively in post-conviction proceedings, then logically a new rule also cannot be created in a post-conviction case. It then discusses a recent case in which the Illinois Supreme Court confronted the myriad of problems caused by this policy limiting the retroactivity of post-conviction rules. Part IV concludes that, because Flowers improperly restricts Illinois courts from applying important new rules to Illinois criminal defendants, justice demands Flowers be overruled.