501 U.S. 797 (1991), 90-68, Ylst v. Nunnemaker

Docket Nº:No. 90-68
Citation:501 U.S. 797, 111 S.Ct. 2590, 115 L.Ed.2d 706, 59 U.S.L.W. 4808
Party Name:Ylst v. Nunnemaker
Case Date:June 24, 1991
Court:United States Supreme Court

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501 U.S. 797 (1991)

111 S.Ct. 2590, 115 L.Ed.2d 706, 59 U.S.L.W. 4808




No. 90-68

United States Supreme Court

June 24, 1991

Argued March 19, 1991




Following his California murder conviction, respondent raised a Miranda claim for the first time on direct appeal, in violation of a state procedural rule. In affirming the conviction, the State Court of Appeal rejected the claim on the sole basis of the procedural bar. After successive petitions for collateral relief were denied without opinion by the State Superior Court and Court of Appeal, respondent filed a habeas petition in the State Supreme Court, which denied relief without opinion or explanation, citing its decisions in In re Swain and In re Waltreus. When the State Supreme Court denied, without opinion or citation, a second habeas petition to it, respondent filed a habeas petition raising the Miranda claim in Federal District Court. That court found that the state procedural default barred federal review, but the Court of Appeals reversed this determination. Relying on this Court's statement in Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 263, that state procedural default bars federal review only when the state court clearly and expressly states its reliance on that ground, the court held that the State Supreme Court's "silent denial" of respondent's second state habeas petition lifted the procedural bar imposed on direct review.

Held: A state court's unexplained denial of a habeas petition raising federal claims is not sufficient, for purposes of federal review, to lift a procedural bar imposed on direct appeal. Pp. 801-806.

(a) The Court of Appeals erred in applying a presumption that, when a state court denies a federal claim without explicit reliance on state grounds, the merits of the federal claim are the basis for the judgment. The Harris presumption in favor of federal review is to be applied only after it has been determined that "the relevant state court decision . . . fairly appear[s] to rest primarily on federal law or [is] interwoven with [federal] law." Coleman v. Thompon, ante at 740. P. 802.

(b) With respect to unexplained state court judgments, federal habeas courts should apply the following presumption: where there has [111 S.Ct. 2592] been one reasoned state judgment rejecting a federal claim, later unexplained orders upholding that judgment or rejecting the same claim rest upon the same ground. If an earlier opinion "fairly appear[s] to rest primarily upon federal law," it should be presumed that no procedural default has been invoked by a subsequent unexplained order that leaves the judgment

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or its consequences in place. Similarly, where the last reasoned opinion on the claim explicitly imposes a procedural default, it should be presumed that a later decision rejecting the claim did not silently disregard the bar and consider the merits. This "look-through" presumption may be rebutted by strong evidence to the contrary. Pp. 803-804.

(c) The last explained state court judgment on respondent's Miranda claim was that of the Court of Appeal on direct review, which unequivocally rested upon a state procedural default. None of the later judgments or orders was informative on the reason for denying the Miranda claim, nor has respondent adduced strong evidence that one of them reached the merits of that claim. Thus, federal court review is barred unless respondent can establish "cause and prejudice" for his default, see Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 493, 495-496. On remand, the Court of Appeals must determine whether he has done so. Pp. 805-806.

904 F.2d 473, reversed and remanded.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 806. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 807.

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SCALIA, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case, we decide whether the unexplained denial of a petition for habeas corpus by a state court lifts a state procedural bar imposed on direct appeal, so that a state prisoner may then have his claim heard on the merits in a federal habeas proceeding.


In 1975, respondent Nunnemaker was tried in California state court for murder. He raised a defense of diminished capacity and introduced psychiatric testimony in support. In response, the State introduced -- without objection from respondent -- the testimony of a psychiatrist based upon a custodial interview. The jury found respondent guilty. He appealed, claiming for the first time that the State's psychiatric testimony was inadmissible because the interview had not been preceded by a Miranda warning, see Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). In addition, he alleged that his attorney's failure to object to the psychiatric testimony amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel, and raised other claims not relevant here.

The California Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction. The sole basis for its rejection of the Miranda claim was the state procedural rule that "an objection based upon a Miranda violation cannot be raised for the first time on appeal." App. 15. See...

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