O'Dell v. Netherland, 521 U.S. 151 (1997)

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

No. 96-6867. Argued March 18, 1997—Decided June 19, 1997

At the penalty phase of petitioner's state trial on capital murder, rape, and sodomy charges, evidence was presented that he had been convicted of a host of other offenses—including the kidnaping and assault of another woman while he was on parole and the murder of a fellow prisoner during a previous prison stint. The court denied his request for a jury instruction that he was ineligible for parole if sentenced to life in prison. The jury determined that petitioner presented a future danger, and he was sentenced to death. In subsequently granting federal habeas relief, the District Court concluded that this Court's intervening decision in Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U. S. 154—which requires that a capital defendant be permitted to inform his sentencing jury that he is parole ineligible if the prosecution argues his future dangerousness— was not a "new" rule within the meaning of Teague v. Lane, 489 U. S. 288, and thus entitled petitioner to resentencing. The Fourth Circuit reversed.

Held: Simmons' rule was new and cannot, therefore, be used to disturb petitioner's death sentence. Pp. 156-168. (a) Under Teague, this Court will not disturb a final state conviction or sentence unless it can be said that, at the time the conviction or sentence became final, a state court would have acted objectively unreasonably by not extending the relief later sought in federal court. Teague requires a federal habeas court to determine the date on which the conviction became final; to consider whether a state court considering the defendant's claim at the time it became final would have felt compelled by existing precedent to conclude that the rule he seeks was required by the Constitution; and if not, to determine whether that new rule nonetheless falls within one of two narrow exceptions to the Teague doctrine. Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U. S. 518, 527. Pp. 156-157. (b) Petitioner's conviction became final in 1988 and Simmons was decided in 1994. Simmons is an unlikely candidate for "old-rule" status. There was no opinion for the Court in Simmons, and the array of views expressed there suggests that the rule announced was, in light of this Court's precedent, "susceptible to debate among reasonable minds." Butler v. McKellar, 494 U. S. 407, 415. An assessment of the legal land-


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