The Law: Unraveling Retroactivity

Is a Supreme Court criminal-law decision binding on all states? Yes—but only to the extent that any new constitutional rule sets a minimum standard for state courts. Even lawyers often forget that the nation's highest tribunal does not write every one of the country's rules of criminal law. States remain free to give citizens greater liberty than even the Supreme Court requires.

In Miranda v. Arizona, for example, the court last June extended a defendant's privilege against self-incrimination all the way back to police interrogation. A week later, in Johnson v. New Jersey, the...

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