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Virginia criminal defense- Determining retroactivity of SCOTUS rulings for appellants & habeas litigants

Virginia criminal defense attorney on retroactivity and prospectivity of Supreme Court rulings.

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Every once in awhile, the United States Supreme Court issues a great decision for criminal defendants. For instance, in March 2013, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that police need probable cause to believe the existence of relevant criminal activity before taking a drug-sniffing dog to the front door of one’s home. Florida v. Jardines, 133 S.Ct. 1409 (2013).

Daniel Paul Oprisko in 2009 was convicted at a bench trial of possession with intent to distribute more than one-half ounce but less than five pounds of marijuana. Oprisko received a suspended sentence. Oprisko v. Virginia, __ Va. ___ (Feb. 10, 2017).

Along came Jardines four years after Oprisko’s conviction and sentencing. Oprisko filed for habeas corpus relief on the basis that the search warrant for his home was invalid under the Fourth Amendment, because the search warrant was based on a drug dog sniff, where the Oprisko argued that police did not first have probable cause of drug activity afoot to have justified bringing a drug-sniffing dog.

Oprisko denied relief, saying that Jardines is not retroactive, based on the following main analyis:

“'[A] case announces a “new” rule if the result was not dictated by precedent existing at the time the defendant’s conviction became final.’ Teague, 489 U.S. at 301. Thus, we must (1) determine the date on which the defendant’s conviction became final; (2) ‘survey the legal landscape’ as it existed on that date “to determine whether existing constitutional precedent compelled the conclusion which the defendant sought”; and (3) decide whether a rule, even though ‘new,’ falls within one of the two exceptions to the retroactivity principle. Mueller, 252 Va. at 361-62, 478 S.E.2d at 546; Caspari v. Bohlen, 510 U.S. 383, 390 (1994). Here, we need not advance our analysis to the third step because Oprisko does not claim that either exception applies.” “We hold that Jardines announced a new rule of constitutional law because it was not dictated by precedent, and therefore it does not apply retroactively to convictions such as Oprisko’s that became final prior to March 26, 2013. Thus, the habeas court did not err in so ruling.

Consequently, Jardines is a great United States Supreme Court case, even though Jardines does not benefit Daniel Oprisko.