State v. Zuniga, No. 156A85

Docket NºNo. 156A85
Citation444 S.E.2d 443, 336 N.C. 508
Case DateJune 17, 1994
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina

Page 443

444 S.E.2d 443
336 N.C. 508
STATE of North Carolina
v.
Bernardino ZUNIGA.
No. 156A85(2).
Supreme Court of North Carolina.
June 17, 1994.

Michael F. Easley, Atty. Gen. by Joan Herre Byers, Sp. Deputy Atty. Gen., for the State.

Robin E. Hudson, Raleigh, for defendant appellant.

Stephen T. Smith, and Katherine E. Jean, Raleigh, for defendant-appellant.

[336 N.C. 510] Tharrington, Smith & Hargrove by Roger W. Smith, Raleigh, and Steptoe & Johnson by William T. Hassler, Washington, DC, on behalf of the Government of Mexico, amicus curiae.

Patterson, Harkavy, Lawrence, Van Noppen & Okun by Maxine Eichner and Melinda Lawrence, Raleigh, Goldsmith & Goldsmith by C. Frank Goldsmith, Jr., Marion, Louis D. Bilionis, Raleigh, and Ferguson, Stein, Watt, Wallas, Adkins & Gresham by Adam Stein, Charlotte, on behalf of the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers, amicus curiae.

EXUM, Chief Justice.

The question in this case is whether McKoy v. North Carolina, 494 U.S. 433, 110 S.Ct. 1227, 108 L.Ed.2d 369 (1990), which invalidated the then-existing unanimity requirement of our capital sentencing scheme, should be applied retroactively to capital cases which, like defendant's, became final before McKoy was decided. Adopting the retroactivity standard announced in Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 109 S.Ct. 1060, 103 L.Ed.2d 334 (1989), we hold that McKoy must be applied retroactively to such cases. Because defendant was sentenced to death under jury instructions violative of McKoy, and because the error cannot be considered harmless, we now vacate his death sentence and remand for resentencing.

I.

In 1985, defendant was convicted of the first-degree rape and first-degree murder of April Lee Sweet. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for the rape and, in a separate capital sentencing proceeding, to death for the murder. At the capital sentencing proceeding, the judge instructed the jury that it could not consider, in deciding whether to impose the death penalty, any mitigating circumstance that it did not unanimously find. Defendant objected to this instruction and assigned it as error upon his direct appeal to this Court. At that time, we considered such an instruction valid, see State v. Kirkley, 308 N.C. 196, 302 S.E.2d 144 (1983); therefore, we affirmed the conviction and sentences. State v. Zuniga, 320 N.C. 233, 357 S.E.2d 898 (1987). On November 16, 1987, the United States Supreme Court denied defendant's petition for writ of certiorari, 484 U.S. 959, 108 S.Ct. 359, 98 L.Ed.2d 384.

Defendant thereafter filed a motion for appropriate relief in the Superior Court of Davidson County, again alleging that his death sentence was unconstitutionally imposed because of the [336 N.C. 511] unanimity instruction. During the pendency of that proceeding, the

Page 445

United States Supreme Court decided McKoy. Relying on Teague, the Superior Court refused to give McKoy retroactive application and denied defendant's motion for appropriate relief.

We granted certiorari to consider the retroactivity question. Because this question is dispositive, we need not address defendant's other assignments of error.

II.

In recent years, the United States Supreme Court has completely revamped its retroactivity standards for new rules of federal constitutional criminal procedure. Dissatisfied with the inconsistent results and unfairness produced by the case-by-case approach of Linkletter v. Walker, 381 U.S. 618, 85 S.Ct. 1731, 14 L.Ed.2d 601 (1965), the Court adopted the bright-line approach long suggested by Justice Harlan: "that new rules should always be applied retroactively to cases on direct review, but that generally they should not be applied retroactively to cases on collateral review." Teague, 489 U.S. at 302-303, 109 S.Ct. at 1071, 103 L.Ed.2d at 350-51. The Court adopted this approach in two stages.

First, in Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U.S. 314, 328, 107 S.Ct. 708, 716, 93 L.Ed.2d 649, 661 (1987), the Court held that new rules of criminal procedure must be applied retroactively "to all cases, state or federal, pending on direct review or not yet final." 1 The rationale for this rule was succinctly stated by Justice Harlan: " 'If we do not resolve all cases before us on direct review in light of our best understanding of governing constitutional principles, it is difficult to see why we should so adjudicate any case at all.' " Id. at 323, 107 S.Ct. at 713, 93 L.Ed.2d at 658.

Then, in Teague, a non-capital case, the Court held that new rules of criminal procedure may not be applied retroactively in federal habeas corpus proceedings unless they fall within one of two narrow exceptions. 489 U.S. at 310, 109 S.Ct. at 1075, 103 L.Ed.2d at 356. Under the first exception, a new rule will be applied retroactively if it "place[s] an entire category of primary conduct beyond the [336 N.C. 512] reach of the criminal law," or "prohibit[s] the imposition of a certain type of punishment for a class of defendants because of their status or offense." Sawyer v. Smith, 497 U.S. 227, 241, 110 S.Ct. 2822, 2831, 111 L.Ed.2d 193, 211 (1990). Under the second exception, a new rule will be applied retroactively if it is a " 'watershed rule[ ] of criminal procedure' implicating the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding." Saffle v. Parks, 494 U.S. 484, 495, 110 S.Ct. 1257, 1264, 108 L.Ed.2d 415, 429 (1990) (quoting Teague, 489 U.S. at 311, 109 S.Ct. at 1076, 103 L.Ed.2d at 356). The Court extended Teague to embrace the capital sentencing context in Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302, 314, 109 S.Ct. 2934, 2945, 106 L.Ed.2d 256, 275 (1989).

As stated by Justice O'Connor, the Teague rule was premised primarily on finality concerns:

Application of constitutional rules not in existence at the time a conviction became final seriously undermines the principle of finality which is essential to the operation of our criminal justice system. Without finality, the criminal law is deprived of much of its deterrent effect.... "[I]f a criminal judgment is ever to be final, the notion of legality must at some point include assignment of final competence to determine legality." Bator, Finality in Criminal Law and Federal Habeas Corpus for State Prisoners, 76 Harv.L.Rev. 441, 450-51 (1962) (emphasis omitted).... "No one, not criminal defendants, not the judicial system, not society as a whole is benefited by a judgment providing a man shall tentatively go to jail today, but tomorrow and every day thereafter his continued incarceration shall be subject to fresh litigation."

489 U.S. at 309, 109 S.Ct. at 1074-75, 103 L.Ed.2d at 355 (quoting Mackey v. United States, 401 U.S. 667, 91 S.Ct. 1160, 28

Page 446

L.Ed.2d 404 (1971) (Harlan, J., concurring in judgments in part and dissenting in part)).

By its terms, Teague is applicable only in federal habeas corpus proceedings. Defendant's amici, the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers (The Academy), cite State v. Rivens, 299 N.C. 385, 261 S.E.2d 867 (1980), for the proposition that under North Carolina law all new rules, whether state or federal, are presumed to operate retroactively unless there is a compelling reason to make them prospective only. The Academy urges us to ignore Teague and instead apply Rivens because the case at bar is before us on writ of certiorari from a state post-conviction proceeding.

[336 N.C. 513] We decline to follow the Academy's suggestion. Though Rivens correctly states the retroactivity standard applicable to new state rules, our courts have always adverted to then-existing federal retroactivity standards when applying new federal constitutional rules. See, e.g., State v. Jackson, 317 N.C. 1, 343 S.E.2d 814 (1986), vacated and remanded, 479 U.S. 1077, 107 S.Ct. 1271, 94 L.Ed.2d 133 (1987); State v. Hankerson, 288 N.C. 632, 220 S.E.2d 575 (1975), reversed on other grounds, 432 U.S. 233, 97 S.Ct. 2339, 53 L.Ed.2d 306 (1977); State v. Swann, 275 N.C. 644, 170 S.E.2d 611 (1969); State v. Fox, 274 N.C. 277, 163 S.E.2d 492 (1968); State v. Bullock, 268 N.C. 560, 151 S.E.2d 9 (1966); State v. Mills, 268 N.C. 142, 150 S.E.2d 13 (1966); State v. Hager, 12...

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33 practice notes
  • State v. Whitfield, No. SC 77067.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • June 17, 2003
    ...follow the overwhelming majority of our sister states in their well-reasoned adoption of the Teague standards. See, e.g., State v. Zuniga, 336 N.C. 508, 444 S.E.2d 443, 446 (1994); Taylor, 606 So.2d at 1297; Pailin v. Vose, 603 A.2d 738, 742 (R.I.1992); Slemmer, 823 P.2d at 49; Morgan v. St......
  • State v. Ward, No. 158A92
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • November 3, 1994
    ...this again," not improper), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 959, 108 S.Ct. 359, 98 L.Ed.2d 384 (1987), denial of post-conviction relief reversed, 336 N.C. 508, 444 S.E.2d 443 (1994). The argument in this case likewise was not improper. This assignment of error is Defendant next contends the trial co......
  • Allen v. Lee, No. 02-5.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • April 28, 2004
    ...that the erroneous instruction did not prevent one or more jurors from finding the mitigating circumstance to exist. See State v. Zuniga, 336 N.C. 508, 444 S.E.2d 443, 447 (1994) (noting that the North Carolina court "has refused to hold McKoy error harmless where [the Court has] found `cre......
  • Thiersaint v. Comm'r of Corr., SC 19134
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • April 14, 2015
    ...People v. Baret, Court of Appeals, Docket No. 105, 2014 N.Y. Slip Op. 04872, 2014 WL 2921420, *12 (N.Y. June 30, 2014); State v. Zuniga, 336 N.C. 508, 513, 444 S.E.2d 443 (1994); State v. Bishop, Ohio St. 3d , 7 N.E.3d 605, 610 (Ohio 2014); Burleson v. Saffle, 46 P.3d 150, 151 (Okla. Crim. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
33 cases
  • State v. Whitfield, No. SC 77067.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • June 17, 2003
    ...follow the overwhelming majority of our sister states in their well-reasoned adoption of the Teague standards. See, e.g., State v. Zuniga, 336 N.C. 508, 444 S.E.2d 443, 446 (1994); Taylor, 606 So.2d at 1297; Pailin v. Vose, 603 A.2d 738, 742 (R.I.1992); Slemmer, 823 P.2d at 49; Morgan v. St......
  • State v. Ward, No. 158A92
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • November 3, 1994
    ...this again," not improper), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 959, 108 S.Ct. 359, 98 L.Ed.2d 384 (1987), denial of post-conviction relief reversed, 336 N.C. 508, 444 S.E.2d 443 (1994). The argument in this case likewise was not improper. This assignment of error is Defendant next contends the trial co......
  • Allen v. Lee, No. 02-5.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • April 28, 2004
    ...that the erroneous instruction did not prevent one or more jurors from finding the mitigating circumstance to exist. See State v. Zuniga, 336 N.C. 508, 444 S.E.2d 443, 447 (1994) (noting that the North Carolina court "has refused to hold McKoy error harmless where [the Court has] found `cre......
  • Thiersaint v. Comm'r of Corr., SC 19134
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • April 14, 2015
    ...People v. Baret, Court of Appeals, Docket No. 105, 2014 N.Y. Slip Op. 04872, 2014 WL 2921420, *12 (N.Y. June 30, 2014); State v. Zuniga, 336 N.C. 508, 513, 444 S.E.2d 443 (1994); State v. Bishop, Ohio St. 3d , 7 N.E.3d 605, 610 (Ohio 2014); Burleson v. Saffle, 46 P.3d 150, 151 (Okla. Crim. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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