489 U.S. 255 (1989), 87-5677, Harris v. Reed

Docket Nº:No. 87-5677
Citation:489 U.S. 255, 109 S.Ct. 1038, 103 L.Ed.2d 308, 57 U.S.L.W. 4224
Party Name:Harris v. Reed
Case Date:February 22, 1989
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 255

489 U.S. 255 (1989)

109 S.Ct. 1038, 103 L.Ed.2d 308, 57 U.S.L.W. 4224

Harris

v.

Reed

No. 87-5677

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 22, 1989

Argued October 12, 1988

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner's state court murder conviction was affirmed by the Appellate Court of Illinois on direct appeal, where petitioner challenged only the sufficiency of the evidence. The trial court then dismissed his petition for postconviction relief -- which alleged ineffective assistance by his trial counsel in several respects, including the failure to call alibi witnesses -- and the Appellate Court again affirmed. Although referring to the "well-settled" Illinois principle that issues that could have been, but were not, presented on direct appeal are considered waived, and finding that, "except for the alibi witnesses," petitioner's ineffective-assistance claim "could have been raised [on] direct appeal," the court nevertheless went on to consider and reject that claim on its merits. Petitioner then pursued the claim by filing a habeas corpus petition in the Federal District Court under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. While recognizing that, absent a showing either of "cause and prejudice" or a "miscarriage of justice," Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, would have barred its consideration of the claim had the State Appellate Court held the claim waived under state law, the federal court determined that there had been no waiver holding, and went on to consider the claim in its entirety, and to dismiss it on its merits. In affirming the dismissal, the Court of Appeals ruled that it was precluded from reviewing the claim's merits because it believed the claim to be procedurally barred. Finding the State Appellate Court's order to be "ambiguous" on the waiver question, the court nevertheless concluded that it was bound by the order's "suggest[ed]" intention "to find all grounds waived except that pertaining to the alibi witnesses."

Held:

1. The "`plain statement' rule" of Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032, 1042, and n. 7, is not limited to cases on direct review in this Court, but extends as well to cases on federal habeas review. Pp. 260-265.

(a) Sykes' procedural default rule is based on this Court's longstanding "adequate and independent state ground" doctrine, whereby the Court will not consider a federal law issue on direct review from a state court judgment if that judgment rests on a state law ground that is both "independent" of the federal claim's merits and an "adequate" basis for the court's decision. The Long rule avoids the difficulties that arise

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under the doctrine when the state court's reference to state law is ambiguous, by permitting the Court to reach the federal question on direct review unless the state court's opinion contains "a plain statement" that its decision rests upon adequate and independent state grounds, whether substantive or procedural. Pp. 260-262.

(b) Since, as Sykes made clear, the adequate and independent state ground doctrine applies on federal habeas, and since federal courts on habeas review commonly face the same problem of ambiguity that was resolved by Long, the "plain statement" rule is adopted for habeas cases. Thus, a procedural default will not bar consideration of a federal claim on habeas review unless the last state court rendering a judgment in the case clearly and expressly states that its judgment rests on a state procedural bar. Pp. 262-263.

(c) Respondents' claim is not persuasive that the federal court in a habeas case should presume that the state court judgment rests on a procedural bar whenever the state court decision is ambiguous on that point. Applying the Long rule to habeas barely burdens the interests of finality, [109 S.Ct. 1040] federalism, and comity, since the state court remains free under the rule to foreclose federal habeas review to the extent permitted by Sykes simply by explicitly relying on a state law procedural default. Conversely, respondents' proposed rule would impose substantial burdens on the federal courts, which would lose much time in reviewing legal and factual issues that the state court, familiar with state law and the record before it, is better suited to address expeditiously. Pp. 263-265.

2. The State Appellate Court's statement that most of petitioner's ineffective-assistance-of-counsel allegations "could have been raised [on] direct appeal" does not satisfy the "plain statement" requirement, since it falls short of an explicit reliance on state law waiver as a ground for rejecting any aspect of petitioner's claim. Accordingly, the statement does not preclude habeas review by the District Court. P. 266.

822 F.2d 684, reversed and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion. O'CONNOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and SCALIA, J., joined, post, p. 268. KENNEDY, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 271.

Page 257

BLACKMUN, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case, we consider whether the "`plain statement' rule" of Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032, 1042, and n. 7 (1983), applies in a case on federal habeas review as well as in a case on direct review in this Court. We hold that it does.

I

Petitioner Warren Lee Harris was convicted in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill., of murder. On direct appeal, petitioner challenged only the sufficiency of the evidence. The Appellate Court of Illinois, by an unpublished order, affirmed the conviction. App. 5; see 71 Ill.App.3d 1113, 392 N.E.2d 1386 (1979).

Petitioner then returned to the Circuit Court of Cook County and filed a petition for postconviction relief, alleging that his trial counsel had rendered ineffective assistance in several respects, including his failure to call alibi witnesses.1 The court dismissed the petition without an evidentiary hearing. The Appellate Court of Illinois, in another unpublished order, again affirmed. App. 9.

Page 258

In its order, the Appellate Court referred to the "well-settled" principle of Illinois law that "those [issues] which could have been presented [on direct appeal], but were not, are considered waived." Id. at 12. The court found that, "except for the alibi witnesses," petitioner's ineffective-assistance allegations "could have been raised in [his] direct appeal." Ibid. The court, however, went on to consider and reject petitioner's ineffective-assistance claim on its merits.

Petitioner did not seek review in the Supreme Court of Illinois. Instead, he pursued his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim in federal court by a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The District Court recognized that, if the Illinois Appellate Court had held this claim to be waived under Illinois law, this Court's decision in Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72 (1977), would bar a federal court's consideration [109 S.Ct. 1041] of the claim unless petitioner was able to show either "cause and prejudice" or a "miscarriage of justice." 608 F.Supp. 1369, 1377 (ND Ill.1985).2

The District Court, however, determined that the Illinois Appellate Court had not held any portion of the ineffective-assistance claim to have been waived. First, the District Court observed, the state court had "made clear" that the waiver did not apply to the issue of alibi witnesses. Id. at 1378. Second, the court never clearly held any other issue waived. The state court

did not appear to make two rulings in the alternative, but rather to note a procedural default and then ignore it, reaching the merits instead.

Ibid. Based on this determination, the District Court concluded that it was permitted to consider the ineffective-assistance claim in its entirety, and ordered an evidentiary hearing. Id. at 1385. After that hearing, the court, in an unpublished

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memorandum and order, dismissed the claim on the merits, although it characterized the case as "a close and difficult" one. App. 45.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, 822 F.2d 684 (CA7 1987), but did not reach the merits, because, in disagreement with the District Court, it believed the ineffective-assistance claim to be procedurally barred. Considering the Illinois Appellate Court's order "ambiguous" because it contained "neither an explicit finding of waiver nor an expression of an intention to ignore waiver," the Court of Appeals nonetheless asserted that a reviewing court "should try to assess the state court's intention to the extent that this is possible." Id. at 687. Undertaking this effort, the Court of Appeals concluded that the order "suggest[ed]" an intention "to find all grounds waived except that pertaining to the alibi witnesses." Ibid. Based on this interpretation of the order, the Court of Appeals concluded that the merits of petitioner's federal claim had been reached only "as an alternate holding," ibid., and considered itself precluded from reviewing the merits of the claim.3

Concurring separately, Judge Cudahy stated:

Rather than attempting to divine the unspoken "intent" of [the state] court, I think we should invoke a presumption that waiver not clearly found has been condoned.

Ibid.

The disagreement between the majority and the concurrence reflects a conflict among the Courts of Appeals over the standard for determining whether a state court's ambiguous invocation of a procedural default bars federal habeas review.4

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We granted certiorari to resolve this conflict. 485 U.S. 934 (1988).

II

The confusion among the courts evidently stems from a failure to recognize that the procedural default rule of Wainwright v. Sykes has its historical and theoretical basis in the "adequate and independent state ground"...

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