Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Bockting v. Bayer (9th Cir. - Feb. 22, 2005)

The opinions in this case are classic products of their respective authors.

At issue is basically whether Crawford v. Washington, in which the Supreme Court held that the testimonial statements of absent witnesses are generally not admissible in the absence of prior cross-examination by the defendant, applies retroactively on habeas. Judge McKeown writes a smart, persuasive, and well-reasoned opinion for the majority that contains deep and innovative explications of Supreme Court precedent, and she reaches a result -- that Crawford is retroactive -- that advances the constitutional rights of the defendant. Judge Noonan concurs, and writes an opinion that is much less focused on the law (though his opinion still contains a healthy dose of legal analysis) and focuses a fair piece more on what's right, and he reaches a result that's consistent with his view of the proper result (here, that the conviction of the defendant in this case is pretty questionable and that he might in fact be innocent, and hence that applying Crawford retroactively might achieve the correct result). And Judge Wallace dissents, writing a smart, persuasive, and well-reasoned opinion that interprets (already conservative) Supreme Court habeas precedent in a conservative fashion and reaches a result (that Crawford is not retroactive) that he both finds attractive and that may well command the views of similarly-situated judges, including -- perhaps -- a majority on the Supreme Court.

This is a great case to read, both on the merits and because it contains good exemplars of the types of opinions written by some of the more interesting judges on the Ninth Circuit. It's a classic.