Gilmore v. Taylor, 508 U.S. 333 (1993)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the seventh circuit

No. 91-1738. Argued March 2, 1993—Decided June 7, 1993

At his trial in Illinois state court, respondent Taylor admitted the killing with which he was charged, but presented evidence to support his claim that he was only guilty of voluntary manslaughter. The jury received instructions modeled after the state pattern instructions on murder and voluntary manslaughter and convicted Taylor of murder. After the conviction and sentence became final, he sought federal habeas relief on the ground that the jury instructions violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. While his case was pending, the Court of Appeals, relying on Cupp v. Naughten, 414 U. S. 141, held as much, finding that because the pattern murder instructions preceded the voluntary-manslaughter instructions, but did not expressly direct a jury that it could not return a murder conviction if it found that a defendant possessed a mitigating mental state, it was possible for a jury to find that a defendant was guilty of murder without even considering whether he was entitled to a voluntary-manslaughter conviction. Falconer v. Lane, 905 F. 2d 1129. The State conceded that Taylor's jury instructions were unconstitutional, but argued that the Falconer rule was "new" within the meaning of Teague v. Lane, 489 U. S. 288, and could not form the basis for federal habeas relief. The District Court agreed, but the Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that Boyde v. California, 494 U. S. 370, and Connecticut v. Johnson, 460 U. S. 73 (plurality opinion), rather than Cupp, were specific enough to have compelled the result in Falconer.

Held: The Falconer rule is "new" within the meaning of Teague and may not provide the basis for federal habeas relief. Pp. 339-346. (a) Subject to two narrow exceptions, a case that is decided after a defendant's conviction and sentence become final may not provide the basis for federal habeas relief if it announces a new rule, i. e., a result that was not dictated by precedent at the time the defendant's conviction became final. This principle validates reasonable, good-faith interpretations of existing precedents made by state courts and therefore effectuates the States' interest in the finality of criminal convictions and fosters comity between federal and state courts. Pp. 339-340. (b) The flaw found in Falconer was not that the instructions somehow lessened the State's burden of proof below that constitutionally required


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