Linkletter v. Walker

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation381 U.S. 618,14 L.Ed.2d 601,85 S.Ct. 1731
Docket NumberNo. 95,95
PartiesVictor LINKLETTER, Petitioner, v. Victor G. WALKER, Warden
Decision Date07 June 1965

Euel A. Screws, Jr., Montgomery, Ala., for petitioner.

Teddy W. Airhart, Jr., Baton Rouge, La., for respondent.

H. Richard Uviller, New York City, for National District Attorneys' Association, as amicus curiae.

Mr. Justice CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081 (1961), we held that the exclusion of evidence seized in violation of the search and seizure provisions of the Fourth Amendment was required of the States by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In so doing we overruled Wolf v. People of State of Colorado, 338 U.S. 25, 69 S.Ct. 1359, 93 L.Ed. 1782 (1949), to the extent that it failed to apply the exclusionary rule to the States. 1 This case presents the question of whether this requirement operates retrospectively upon cases finally decided in the

period prior to Mapp. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that it did not, 323 F.2d 11, and we granted certiorari in order to settle what has become a most troublesome question in the administration of justice.2 377 U.S. 930, 84 S.Ct. 1340, 12 L.Ed.2d 295. We agree with the Court of Appeals.

The petitioner was convicted in a Louisiana District Court on May 28, 1959, of 'simple burglary.' At the time of his arrest he had been under surveillance for two days as a suspect in connection with another burglary. He was taken to the police station, searched, and keys were taken from his person. After he was booked and placed in jail, other officers took his keys, entered and searched his home, and seized certain property and papers. Later his place of business was entered and searched and seizures were effected. These intrusions were made without a warrant. The State District Court held that the arresting officers had reasonable cause for the arrest under Louisiana law and finding probable cause to search as an incident to arrest it held the seizures valid. The Supreme Court of Louisiana affirmed in February 1960.

On June 19, 1961, Mapp was announced. Immediately thereafter petitioner filed an application for habeas corpus in the state court on the basis of Mapp. The writ being denied in the Louisiana courts, he then filed a like application in the United States District Court. After denial there he appealed and the Court of Appeals affirmed. It found the searches too remote from the arrest and therefore illegal but held that the constitutional requirement of exclusion of the evidence under Mapp was not retrospective. Petitioner has two points: (1) that the Court of Appeals erred in holding that Mapp was not retrospective; and (2) that even though Mapp be held not to operate retrospectively, the search in his case was subsequent to that in Mapp, and while his final conviction was long prior to our disposition of it, his case should nevertheless be governed by Mapp.

Initially we must consider the term 'retrospective' for the purposes of our opinion. A ruling which is purely prospective does not apply even to the parties before the

court.3 See, e.g., England v. Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners, 375 U.S. 411, 84 S.Ct. 461, 11 L.Ed.2d 440 (1964). See also Great Northern Ry. Co. v. Sunburst Oil & Refining Co., 287 U.S. 358, 53 S.Ct. 145, 77 L.Ed. 360 (1932). However, we are not here concerned with pure prospectivity since we applied the rule announced in Mapp to reverse Miss Mapp's conviction. That decision has also been applied to cases still pending on direct review at the time it was rendered.4 Therefore, in this case, we are concerned only with whether the exclusionary principle enunciated in Mapp applies to state court convictions which had become final5 before rendition of our opinion.


While to some it may seem 'academic' it might be helpful to others for us to briefly outline the history and theory of the problem presented.

At common law there was no authority for the proposition that judicial decisions made law only for the future.6 Blackstone stated the rule that the duty of the court was not to 'pronounce a new law, but to maintain and expound

the old one.' 1 Blackstone, Commentaries 69 (15th ed. 1809).7 This Court followed that rule in Norton v. Shelby County, 118 U.S. 425, 6 S.Ct. 1121, 30 L.Ed. 178 (1886),8 holding that unconstitutional action 'confers no rights; it imposes no duties; it affords no protection; it creates no office; it is, in legal contemplation, as inoperative as though it had never been passed.' At 442, 6 S.Ct. at 1125. The judge rather than being the creator of the law was but its discoverer. Gray, Nature and Sources of the Law 222 (1st ed. 1909). In the case of the overruled decision, Wolf v. People of State of Colorado, supra, here, it was thought to be only a failure at true discovery and was consequently never the law; while the overruling one, Mapp, was not 'new law but an application of what is, and theretofore had been, the true law.' Shulman, Retroactive Legislation, 13 Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences 355, 356 (1934).

On the other hand, Austin maintained that judges do in fact do something more than discover law; they make

it interstitially by filling in with judicial interpretation the vague, indefinite, or generic statutory or common-law terms that alone are but the empty crevices of the law. Implicit in such an approach is the admission when a case is overruled that the earlier decision was wrongly decided. However, rather than being erased by the later overruling decision it is considered as an existing juridical fact until overruled, and intermediate cases finally decided under it are not to be disturbed.

The Blackstonian view ruled English jurisprudence and cast its shadow over our own as evidenced by Norton v. Shelby County, supra. However, some legal philosophers continued to insist that such a rule was out of tune with actuality largely because judicial repeal ofttime did 'work hardship to those who (had) trusted to its existence.' Cardozo, Address to the N.Y. Bar Assn., 55 Rep.N.Y. State Bar Assn. 263, 296—297 (1932). The Austinian view gained some acceptance over a hundred years ago when it was decided that although legislative divorces were illegal and void, those previously granted were immunized by a prospective application of the rule of the case. Bingham v. Miller, 17 Ohio 445 (1848). And as early as 1863 this Court drew on the same concept in Gelpcke v. City of Dubuque, 1 Wall. 175, 17 L.Ed. 520 (1863). The Supreme Court of Iowa had repeatedly held that the Iowa Legislature had the power to authorize municipalities to issue bonds to aid in the construction of railroads. After the City of Dubuque had issued such bonds, the Iowa Supreme Court reversed itself and held that the legislature lacked such power. In Gelpcke, which arose after the overruling decision, this Court held that the bonds issued under the apparent authority granted by the legislature were collectible. 'However we may regard the late (overruling) case in Iowa as affecting the future, it can have no effect upon the past.' At 206. The theory was, as Mr. Justice Holmes stated in Kuhn v. Fairmont Coal Co., 215 U.S.

349, 371, 30 S.Ct. 140, 148 (1910), 'that a change of judicial decision after a contract has been made on the faith of an earlier one the other way is a change of the law.' And in 1932 Mr. Justice Cardozo in Great Northern Ry. Co. v. Sunburst Oil & Refining Co., 287 U.S. 358, 53 S.Ct. 145, 77 L.Ed. 360, applied the Austinian approach in denying a federal constitutional due process attack on the prospective application of a decision of the Montana Supreme Court. He said that a State 'may make a choice for itself between the principle of forward operation and that of relation backward.' At 364, 53 S.Ct. at 148. Mr. Justice Cardozo based the rule on the avoidance of 'injustice or hardship' citing a long list of state and federal cases supporting the principle that the courts had the power to say that decisions though later overruled 'are law none the less for intermediate transactions.' At 364, 53 S.Ct. at 148. Eight years later Chief Justice Hughes in Chicot County Drainage Dist. v. Baxter State Bank, 308 U.S. 371, 60 S.Ct. 317, 84 L.Ed. 329 (1940), in discussing the problem made it clear that the broad statements of Norton, supra, 'must be taken with qualifications.' He reasoned that the actual existence of the law prior to the determination of unconstitutionality 'is an operative fact and may have consequences which cannot justly be ignored. The past cannot always be erased by a new judicial declaration.' He laid down the rule that the 'effect of the subsequent ruling as to invalidity may have to be considered in various aspects.' At 374, 60 S.Ct. at 319.

One form of limited retroaction which differs somewhat from the type discussed above is that which was established in United States v. Schooner Peggy, 1 Cranch 103, 2 L.Ed. 49 (1801). There, a schooner had been seized under an order of the President which commanded that any armed French vessel found on the high seas be captured. An order of condemnation was entered on September 23, 1800. However, while the case was pending before this Court the United States signed an agreement with France providing that any property captured and not 'definit-

ively condemned' should be restored. Chief Justice Marshall said:

'It is in the general true that the province of an appellate court is only to enquire whether a judgment when rendered was erroneous or not. But if subsequent to the judgment and before the decision of the appellate court, a law intervenes and positively changes the rule which governs, the law must be obeyed, or its obligation denied * * * (and) where individual rights * * * are sacrificed for national purposes * * * the court must decide according to existing laws, and if it be necessary to set aside a...

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