Linkletter, Shott, and the Retroactivity Problem in Escobedo

Prior to the 1964 Supreme Court Term, decisions promulgating new constitutional rules were applied retroactively as a matter of course to final convictions. While dissents occasionally criticized the Court’s failure to discuss the retroactive impact of a new constitutional rule, the potential effect upon final convictions of any single rule was not sufficiently acute to justify a departure from the normal grant of retroactivity. But the Court’s decision in Mapp v. OhioWolf v. Colorado and brought into doubt final state convictions resting upon illegally seized evidence admitted in reliance upon Wolf, caused courts and commentators alike to question the necessity for retroactivity in every case. Subsequently, in Linkletter v. Walker, the Court announced a new policy on the issue of retroactivity and refused to give Mapp retroactive effect. “Once the premise is accepted that we are neither required to apply, nor prohibited from applying, a decision retrospectively,” stated the Court, “we must then weigh the merits and demerits in each case by looking to the prior history of the rule in question … and whether retrospective operation will further or retard its operation.”