Stogner v. California, 539 U.S. 607, 5 (2003)

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Cite as: 539 U. S. 607 (2003)

Opinion of the Court

First, the new statute threatens the kinds of harm that, in this Court's view, the Ex Post Facto Clause seeks to avoid. Long ago Justice Chase pointed out that the Clause protects liberty by preventing governments from enacting statutes with "manifestly unjust and oppressive" retroactive effects. Calder v. Bull, 3 Dall. 386, 391 (1798). Judge Learned Hand later wrote that extending a limitations period after the State has assured "a man that he has become safe from its pursuit . . . seems to most of us unfair and dishonest." Falter v. United States, 23 F. 2d 420, 426 (CA2), cert. denied, 277 U. S. 590 (1928). In such a case, the government has refused "to play by its own rules," Carmell v. Texas, 529 U. S. 513, 533 (2000). It has deprived the defendant of the "fair warning," Weaver v. Graham, 450 U. S. 24, 28 (1981), that might have led him to preserve exculpatory evidence. F. Wharton, Criminal Pleading and Practice 316, p. 210 (8th ed. 1880) ("The statute [of limitations] is . . . an amnesty, declaring that after a certain time . . . the offender shall be at liberty to return to his country . . . and . . . may cease to preserve the proofs of his innocence"). And a Constitution that permits such an extension, by allowing legislatures to pick and choose when to act retroactively, risks both "arbitrary and potentially vindictive legislation," and erosion of the separation of powers, Weaver, supra, at 29, and n. 10. See Fletcher v. Peck, 6 Cranch 87, 137-138 (1810) (viewing the Ex Post Facto Clause as a protection against "violent acts which might grow out of the feelings of the moment").

Second, the kind of statute at issue falls literally within the categorical descriptions of ex post facto laws set forth by Justice Chase more than 200 years ago in Calder v. Bull, supra—a categorization that this Court has recognized as providing an authoritative account of the scope of the Ex Post Facto Clause. Collins v. Youngblood, 497 U. S. 37, 46 (1990); Carmell, supra, at 539. Drawing substantially on Richard Wooddeson's 18th-century commentary on the nature of ex post facto laws and past parliamentary abuses,

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