Schriro v. Summerlin

Schriro v. Summerlin, 542 U.S. 348 (2004), was a case in which the United States Supreme Court held that a requirement that a different Supreme Court decision requiring the jury rather than the judge to find aggravating factors would not be applied retroactively.[2]

Schriro v. Summerlin
Argued April 19, 2004
Decided June 24, 2004
Full case nameDora B. Schriro, Director, Arizona Department of Corrections v. Warren Wesley Summerlin
Citations542 U.S. 348 (more)
124 S. Ct. 2519; 159 L. Ed. 2d 442; 2004 U.S. LEXIS 4574; 72 U.S.L.W. 4561; 17 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 425
Case history
Prior267 F.3d 926 (9th Cir. 2001); opinion withdrawn, 281 F.3d 836 (9th Cir. 2002); on rehearing en banc, 341 F.3d 1082 (9th Cir. 2003); cert. granted, 540 U.S. 1045 (2003).
Ring v. Arizona[1] does not apply retroactively to cases already final on direct review.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William Rehnquist
Associate Justices
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
David Souter · Clarence Thomas
Ruth Bader Ginsburg · Stephen Breyer
Case opinions
MajorityScalia, joined by Rehnquist, O'Connor, Kennedy, Thomas
DissentBreyer, joined by Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg


In April 1981, Warren Wesley Summerlin killed a creditor who had come to his home in Phoenix, Arizona, to inquire about a debt. He was later convicted of first-degree murder and received a death sentence. Under Arizona law at the time, a jury decided the question of guilt but a judge sitting without a jury decided the question of penalty after receiving evidence regarding aggravating and mitigating factors. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the death sentence. While the appeal in his habeas corpus case was pending in the Ninth Circuit, the Supreme Court decided Ring v. Arizona,[1] which held that such aggravating factors had to be proved to a jury rather than a judge. The Ninth Circuit ruled that the Ring decision applied to Summerlin's case even though Ring was decided after Summerlin's conviction had become final on direct review. The state appealed this decision to the Supreme Court.


The Court, in an opinion by Justice Scalia, reversed the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and stated that "we give retroactive effect to only a small set of 'watershed rules of criminal procedure implementing the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding.' That a new procedural rule is 'fundamental' in some abstract sense is not enough; the rule must be one 'without which the likelihood of an accurate conviction is seriously diminished."

See also


  1. Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002).
  2. Schriro v. Summerlin, 542 U.S. 348 (2004).

Further reading

  • Johnson, Marc E. (2005). "Everything Old is New Again: Justice Scalia's Activist Originalism in Schriro v. Summerlin". Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. 95 (3): 763–808. ISSN 0091-4169.
  • Russell, C. Ryan (2004). "Death Anyways: Federal Habeas Corpus Retroactivity Law and the Decision in Schriro v. Summerlin" (PDF). Oregon Law Review. 83: 1389–1435.
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