477 U.S. 436 (1986), 84-1479, Kuhlmann v. Wilson

Docket Nº:No. 84-1479
Citation:477 U.S. 436, 106 S.Ct. 2616, 91 L.Ed.2d 364, 54 U.S.L.W. 4809
Party Name:Kuhlmann v. Wilson
Case Date:June 26, 1986
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 436

477 U.S. 436 (1986)

106 S.Ct. 2616, 91 L.Ed.2d 364, 54 U.S.L.W. 4809




No. 84-1479

United States Supreme Court

June 26, 1986

Argued January 14, 1986




After his arraignment on charges arising from a 1970 robbery and murder in New York, respondent was confined in a cell with a prisoner, named Benny Lee, who had previously agreed to act as a police informant. Respondent made incriminating statements, and Lee reported them to the police. Prior to trial in a New York court, respondent moved to suppress the statements on the ground that they were obtained in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied the motion, finding that Lee had obeyed a police officer's instructions only to listen to respondent for the purpose of identifying his confederates in the robbery and murder, but not to question respondent about the crimes. The court also found that respondent's statements to Lee were "spontaneous" and "unsolicited." In 1972, respondent was convicted of, and sentenced to imprisonment for, common law murder and felonious possession of a weapon, and the Appellate Division affirmed. In 1973, respondent sought federal habeas corpus relief, asserting that his statements to Lee were obtained by police investigative methods that violated his Sixth Amendment rights. The District Court denied the writ, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. After the 1980 decision in United States v. Henry, 447 U.S. 264 -- which applied the "deliberately elicited" test of Massiah v. United States, 377 U.S. 201, to suppress statements made to a paid jailhouse informant -- respondent unsuccessfully sought to have his conviction vacated by the state courts on the basis of his Sixth Amendment claim. In 1982, respondent filed the instant habeas corpus petition in Federal District Court, again asserting his Sixth Amendment claim. The District Court denied relief, but the Court of Appeals reversed. As an initial matter, the Court of Appeals concluded that, under Sanders v. United States, 373 U.S. 1, the "ends of justice" required consideration of this petition for habeas corpus, notwithstanding the adverse determination on the merits of respondent's Sixth Amendment claim in the earlier federal habeas corpus proceedings. The court then held that, under Henry, respondent was entitled to relief.

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[106 S.Ct. 2618] Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded. 742 F.2d 741, reversed and remanded.

JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, IV, and V, concluding that the Court of Appeals erred in holding that respondent was entitled to relief under United States v. Henry, supra, which left open the question whether the Sixth Amendment forbids admission in evidence of an accused's statements to a jailhouse informant who was placed in close proximity but made no effort to stimulate conversations about the crime charged. Pp. 456-461.

(a) The primary concern of the Massiah and Henry line of decisions was secret interrogation by investigatory techniques that are the equivalent of direct police interrogation. Since the Sixth Amendment is not violated whenever -- by luck or happenstance -- the State obtains incriminating statements from the accused after the right to counsel has attached, a defendant does not make out a violation of that right simply by showing that an informant, either through prior arrangement or voluntarily, reported his incriminating statements to the police. Rather, the defendant must demonstrate that the police and their informant took some action, beyond merely listening, that was designed deliberately to elicit incriminating remarks. Pp. 456-459.

(b) Under the circumstances of this case, the Court of Appeals' conclusion that respondent's right to counsel was violated because the police "deliberately elicited" incriminating statements was clear error in light of the provisions and intent of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), which requires that the state trial court's factual findings be accorded a presumption of correctness. Pp. 459-461.

JUSTICE POWELL, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE REHNQUIST, and JUSTICE O'CONNOR, delivered an opinion with respect to Parts II and III, concluding that the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the "ends of justice" would be served by entertaining respondent's present "successive" petition for habeas corpus, and that the District Court and the Court of Appeals should have dismissed this successive petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b) on the ground that the prior judgment denying relief on respondent's identical Sixth Amendment claim was final. Sanders v. United States derived its "ends of justice" test directly from language of the then-applicable statute, and left for another day the task of defining the considerations that properly support a decision to entertain a successive petition. Although § 2244(b) makes no reference to the "ends of justice," that phrase still may be used generally to describe the standard for identifying those cases where successive review may be appropriate. However, specific guidance should be given to the federal courts as to the kind of proof that a state prisoner must offer to establish that the "ends of justice" will be served by relitigation

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of claims previously decided against him. Balancing the State's interests in finality of convictions and the prisoner's interest in access to a forum compels the conclusion that the "ends of justice" are served by successive review only where the petitioner supplements his constitutional claim with a colorable showing of factual innocence. The prisoner must make his evidentiary showing even though -- as argued in this case -- the evidence of guilt may have been unlawfully admitted. Here, the Court of Appeals conceded that the evidence of respondent's guilt "was nearly overwhelming," and respondent's constitutional claim did not itself raise any question as to his guilt or innocence. Pp. 444-455.

POWELL, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, IV, and V, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Parts II and III, in which BURGER, C.J., and REHNQUIST and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 461. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, [106 S.Ct. 2619] J., joined, post, p. 461. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 476.

POWELL, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE POWELL announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, IV, and V, and an opinion with respect to Parts II and III in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE REHNQUIST, and JUSTICE O'CONNOR join.

This case requires us to define the circumstances under which federal courts should entertain a state prisoner's petition for writ of habeas corpus that raises claims rejected on a prior petition for the same relief.


In the early morning of July 4, 1970, respondent and two confederates robbed the Star Taxicab Garage in the Bronx, New York, and fatally shot the night dispatcher. Shortly

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before, employees of the garage had observed respondent, a former employee there, on the premises conversing with two other men. They also witnessed respondent fleeing after the robbery, carrying loose money in his arms. After eluding the police for four days, respondent turned himself in. Respondent admitted that he had been present when the crimes took place, claimed that he had witnessed the robbery, gave the police a description of the robbers, but denied knowing them. Respondent also denied any involvement in the robbery or murder, claiming that he had fled because he was afraid of being blamed for the crimes.

After his arraignment, respondent was confined in the Bronx House of Detention, where he was placed in a cell with a prisoner named Benny Lee. Unknown to respondent, Lee had agreed to act as a police informant. Respondent made incriminating statements that Lee reported to the police. Prior to trial, respondent moved to suppress the statements on the ground that they were obtained in violation of his right to counsel. The trial court held an evidentiary hearing on the suppression motion, which revealed that the statements were made under the following circumstances.

Before respondent arrived in the jail, Lee had entered into an arrangement with Detective Cullen, according to which Lee agreed to listen to respondent's conversations and report his remarks to Cullen. Since the police had positive evidence of respondent's participation, the purpose of placing Lee in the cell was to determine the identities of respondent's confederates. Cullen instructed Lee not to ask respondent any questions, but simply to "keep his ears open" for the names of the other perpetrators. Respondent first spoke to Lee about the crimes after he looked out the cellblock window at the Star Taxicab Garage, where the crimes had occurred. Respondent said, "someone's messing with me," and began talking to Lee about the robbery, narrating the same story that he had given the police at the time of his arrest. Lee advised respondent that this explanation "didn't

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sound too good,"1 but respondent did not alter his story. Over the next few days, however, respondent changed details of his original account. Respondent then received a visit from his brother, who mentioned that members of his family were upset because they believed that respondent had murdered the dispatcher. After the visit, respondent again described the crimes to Lee. Respondent now admitted that he and two...

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