ANALYSIS OF FEBRUARY 9, 2017 SUPREME COURT OPINION
(Posted February 9, 2017) This week’s sole published opinion from the SCV is a habeas corpus appeal, Oprisko v. Director. Oprisko was convicted in early 2009 of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, and received a five-year suspended prison sentence. He exhausted his direct appeals in mid-2012 – an eye-catching delay that isn’t explained in today’s opinion.
A few months later, SCOTUS handed down Florida v. Jardines, in which the Court held that the use of a drug-sniffing dog by the police on a homeowner’s front porch is a search within the Fourth Amendment. Because Oprisko’s conviction depended on the use of such a dog, and the circuit court had denied a motion to suppress on that issue, Oprisko filed a habeas petition asserting that his conviction was invalid.
The primary issue in the habeas proceeding was whether the rule announced in Jardines was retroactive or not. The circuit court found that it wasn’t, so it denied habeas relief without conducting an evidentiary hearing. Oprisko got a writ to review that ruling.
The justices today unanimously affirm the denial of habeas relief. Analyzing the caselaw at the time it existed on the day Oprisko’s conviction became final, the court determines that Jardines indeed announced a new rule of law. Under established jurisprudence, such rulings don’t have retroactive effect; only if the new decision was “dictated by precedent existing at the time the defendant’s conviction became final” would it apply to previous convictions.
Prior caselaw on this point didn’t establish that the Jardines ruling was “dictated by existing precedent,” so the ruling doesn’t get retroactive effect. Based on this conclusion, the court also rejects Oprisko’s argument that he should have received an evidentiary hearing. The sole issue in the habeas proceeding was a legal one, so evidence wouldn’t have made a difference. The trial court accordingly acted within its discretion in deciding the case on the existing record.