428 U.S. 465 (1976), 74-1055, Stone v. Powell

Docket Nº:No. 74-1055
Citation:428 U.S. 465, 96 S.Ct. 3037, 49 L.Ed.2d 1067
Party Name:Stone v. Powell
Case Date:July 06, 1976
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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428 U.S. 465 (1976)

96 S.Ct. 3037, 49 L.Ed.2d 1067

Stone

v.

Powell

No. 74-1055

United States Supreme Court

July 6, 1976

Argued February 24, 1976

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondent in No. 74-1055, was convicted of murder in state court, in part on the basis of testimony concerning a revolver found on his person when he was arrested for violating a vagrancy ordinance. The trial court rejected respondent's contention that the testimony should have been excluded because the ordinance was unconstitutional and the arrest therefore invalid. The appellate court affirmed, finding it unnecessary to pass upon the legality of the arrest and search because of the court's conclusion that the error, if any, in admitting the challenged testimony was harmless, beyond a reasonable doubt. Respondent then applied for habeas corpus relief in the Federal District Court, which concluded that the arresting officer had probable cause, and that, even if the vagrancy ordinance was unconstitutional, the deterrent purpose of the exclusionary rule did not require that it be applied to bar admission of the fruits of a search incident to an otherwise valid arrest. The court held, alternatively, that any error in admission of the challenged evidence was harmless. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the ordinance was unconstitutional; that respondent's arrest was therefore illegal; and that, although exclusion of the evidence would serve no deterrent purpose with regard to officers who were enforcing statutes in good faith, exclusion would deter legislators from enacting unconstitutional statutes. The court also held that admission of the evidence was not harmless error. In No. 74-1222, respondent was also convicted of murder in a state court, in part on the basis of evidence seized pursuant to a search warrant which respondent on a suppression motion claimed was invalid. The trial court denied respondent's motion to suppress, and was upheld on appeal. Respondent then filed a habeas corpus petition in Federal District Court. The court concluded that the warrant was invalid, and rejected the State's contention that, in any event, probable cause justified the

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search. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Where the State, as in each of these cases, has provided an opportunity for full and fair litigation of a Fourth Amendment claim, a state prisoner may not be granted federal habeas corpus relief on the ground that evidence obtained through an unconstitutional search and seizure was introduced at his trial. In this context, the contribution of the exclusionary rule, if any, to the effectuation of the Fourth Amendment is minimal as compared to the substantial societal costs of applying the rule. Pp. 474-495.

(a) Until these cases, this Court has had no occasion fully to examine the validity of the assumption made in Kaufman v. United States, 394 U.S. 217, that the effectuation of the Fourth Amendment, as applied to the States through the Fourteenth, requires the granting of habeas corpus relief when a prisoner has been convicted in state court on the basis of evidence obtained in an illegal search or seizure since those Amendments were held in Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, to require exclusion of such evidence at trial and reversal of conviction upon direct review. Pp. 480-481.

(b) The Mapp majority justified application of the exclusionary rule chiefly upon the belief that exclusion would deter future unlawful police conduct, and though preserving the integrity of the judicial process has been alluded to as also justifying the rule, that concern is minimal where federal habeas corpus relief is sought by a prisoner who has already been given the opportunity for full and fair consideration of his search and seizure claim at trial and on direct review. Pp. 484-486.

(c) Despite the broad deterrent purpose of the exclusionary rule, it has never been interpreted to proscribe the introduction of illegally seized evidence in all proceedings or against all persons; in various situations, the Court has found the policies behind the rule outweighed by countervailing considerations. Pp. 486-489.

(d) The ultimate question of guilt or innocence should be the central concern in a criminal proceeding. Application of the exclusionary rule, however, deflects the truthfinding process and often frees the guilty. Though the rule is thought to deter unlawful police activity, in part through nurturing respect for Fourth Amendment values, indiscriminate application of the rule may well generate disrespect for the law and the administration of justice. Pp. 489-491.

(e) Despite the absence of supportive empirical evidence, the assumption has been that the exclusionary rule deters law enforcement

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officers from violating the Fourth Amendment by removing the incentives to disregard it. Though the Court adheres to that view as applied to the trial and direct appeal stages, there is no reason to believe that the effect of applying the rule would be appreciably diminished if search and seizure claims could not be raised in federal habeas corpus review of state convictions. Even if some additional deterrent effect existed from application of the rule in isolated habeas corpus cases, the furtherance of Fourth Amendment goals would be outweighed by the detriment to the criminal justice system. Pp. 492-494.

No. 74-1055, 507 F.2d 93; No. 74-1222, 513 F.2d 1280, reversed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 496. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 502. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 536.

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POWELL, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondents in these cases were convicted of criminal offenses in state courts, and their convictions were affirmed on appeal. The prosecution in each case relied upon evidence obtained by searches and seizures alleged by respondents to have been unlawful. Each respondent subsequently sought relief in a Federal District Court by filing a petition for a writ of federal habeas corpus under

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28 U.S.C. § 2254. The question presented is whether a federal court should consider, in ruling on a petition for habeas corpus relief filed by a state prisoner, a claim that evidence obtained by an unconstitutional search or seizure was introduced at his trial, when he has previously been afforded an opportunity for full and fair litigation of his claim in the state courts. The issue is of considerable importance to the administration of criminal justice.

I

We summarize first the relevant facts and procedural history of these cases.

A

Respondent Lloyd Powell was convicted of murder in June, 1968, after trial in a California state court. At about midnight on February 17, 1968, he and three companions entered the Bonanza Liquor Store in San Bernardino, Cal., where Powell became involved in an altercation with Gerald Parsons, the store manager, over the theft of a bottle of wine. In the scuffling that followed, Powell shot and killed Parsons' wife. Ten hours later, an officer of the Henderson, Nev., Police Department arrested Powell for violation of the Henderson vagrancy ordinance,1 and in the search incident to the arrest discovered a .38-caliber revolver with six expended cartridges in the cylinder.

Powell was extradited to California and convicted of

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second-degree murder in the Superior Court of San Bernardino County. Parsons and Powell's accomplices at the liquor store testified against him. A criminologist testified that the revolver found on Powell was the gun that killed Parsons' wife. The trial court rejected Powell's contention that testimony by the Henderson police officer as to the search and the discovery of the revolver should have been excluded because the vagrancy ordinance was unconstitutional. In October, 1969, the conviction was affirmed by a California District Court of Appeal. Although the issue was duly presented, that court found it unnecessary to pass upon the legality of the arrest and search because it concluded that the error, if any, in admitting the testimony of the Henderson officer was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt under Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18 (1967). The Supreme Court of California denied Powell's petition for habeas corpus relief.

In August, 1971, Powell filed an amended petition for a writ of federal habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, contending that the testimony concerning the .38-caliber revolver should have been excluded as the fruit of an illegal search. He argued that his arrest had been [96 S.Ct. 3041] unlawful because the Henderson vagrancy ordinance was unconstitutionally vague and that the arresting officer lacked probable cause to believe that he was violating it. The District Court concluded that the arresting officer had probable cause, and held that, even if the vagrancy ordinance was unconstitutional, the deterrent purpose of the exclusionary rule does not require that it be applied to bar admission of the fruits of a search incident to an otherwise valid arrest. In the alternative, that court agreed with the California District Court of Appeal that the admission of the evidence concerning

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Powell's arrest, if error, was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

In December, 1974, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed. 507 F.2d 93. The court concluded that the vagrancy ordinance was unconstitutionally vague,2 that Powell's arrest was therefore illegal, and that, although exclusion of the evidence would serve no deterrent purpose with regard to police officers who were enforcing...

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