The Law: The Retroactivity Riddle

When the Supreme Court changes the law by extending the constitutional rights of criminal defendants, it normally does so by reversing the conviction of a particular appellant. But this raises a puzzling question: Does the decision also apply retroactively to other previously convicted prisoners?

The court has always said yes whenever it has tackled the question. But now it is painfully aware that hopeful convicts are flooding lower courts with appeals while critics flay judges for "freeing criminals." Last week, in a 7 to 2 decision, the court refused for the first time...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now


Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!