Reed v. Ross

Decision Date27 June 1984
Docket NumberNo. 83-218,83-218
PartiesAmos REED, etc., and The Attorney General of North Carolina, Petitioners v. Daniel ROSS
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

In 1969, respondent was convicted of first-degree murder in a North Carolina state court and sentenced to life imprisonment. At trial, he had claimed lack of malice and self-defense, and, in accordance with well-settled North Carolina law, the trial judge instructed the jury that respondent had the burden of proving each of these defenses. Although respondent appealed his conviction on several grounds, he did not challenge the constitutionality of this instruction. In 1975, Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 95 S.Ct. 1881, 44 L.Ed.2d 508, struck down, as violative of due process, the requirement that the defendant bear the burden of proving lack of malice. In 1977, Hankerson v. North Carolina, 432 U.S. 233, 97 S.Ct. 2339, 53 L.Ed.2d 306, held that Mullaney was to have retroactive application. Subsequently, after exhausting his state remedies, respondent brought a habeas corpus proceeding in Federal District Court under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging the jury instruction, but the court held that habeas relief was barred because respondent had failed to raise the issue on appeal as required by North Carolina law. The Court of Appeals summarily affirmed, but this Court vacated and remanded for further consideration in light of Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 102 S.Ct. 1558, 71 L.Ed.2d 783, and United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 102 S.Ct. 1584, 71 L.Ed.2d 816, both of which addressed the standard for procedural bars under § 2254 whereby a state prisoner may not obtain federal habeas corpus relief absent a showing of "cause and actual prejudice," when a procedural default bars litigation of a constitutional claim in state court. On remand, the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that respondent had satisfied the "cause" requirement because the Mullaney issue was so novel at the time of his state appeal that his attorney could not reasonably be expected to have raised it. And the State conceded the existence of "prejudice."

Held: Respondent had "cause" for failing to raise the Mullaney issue on appeal from his conviction. Pp. 9-20.

(a) Where, as in this case, a defendant has failed to abide by a State's procedural rule requiring the exercise of legal expertise and judgment, the competing concerns implicated by the exercise of a federal court's habeas corpus power—on the one hand, Congress' interest in providing a federal forum for the vindication of state prisoners' constitutional rights and, on the other hand, the State's interest in the integrity of its rules and proceedings and the finality of its judgment—have come to be embodied in the "cause and prejudice" requirement. Pp. 9-11.

(b) Where a constitutional claim is so novel that its legal basis is not reasonably available to counsel, a defendant has cause for his failure to raise the claim in accordance with applicable state procedures. Pp. 12-16.

(c) Here, the Mullaney issue was sufficiently novel at the time of respondent's appeal to excuse his attorney's failure to raise it at that time. The state of the law at the time of the appeal did not offer a "reasonable basis" upon which to challenge the jury instruction in question. Pp. 16-20.

704 F.2d 705 (CA4 1983), affirmed.

Richard N. League, Raleigh, N.C., for petitioners.

Edwin S. Kneedler, Washington, D.C., for the U.S. as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

Barry Nakell for respondent.

Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

In March 1969, respondent Daniel Ross was convicted of first-degree murder in North Carolina and sentenced to life imprisonment. At trial, Ross had claimed lack of malice and self-defense. In accordance with well-settled North Carolina law, the trial judge instructed the jury that Ross, the defendant, has the burden of proving each of these defenses. Six years later, this Court decided Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 95 S.Ct. 1881, 44 L.Ed.2d 508 (1975), which struck down, as violative of due process, the requirement that the defendant bear the burden of proving lack of malice. Id., at 704, 95 S.Ct., at 1892. Two years later, Hankerson v. North Carolina, 432 U.S. 233, 97 S.Ct. 2339, 53 L.Ed.2d 306 (1977), held that Mullaney was to have retroactive application. The question presented in this case is whether Ross' attorney forfeited Ross' right to relief under Mullaney and Hankerson by failing, several years before those cases were decided, to raise on appeal the unconstitutionality of the jury instruction on the burden of proof.

I
A.

In 1970, this Court decided In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368, the first case in which we directly addressed the constitutional foundation of the requirement that criminal guilt be established beyond a reasonable doubt. That case held that "[l]est there remain any doubt about the constitutional stature of the reasonable-doubt standard, . . . the Due Process Clause protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged." Id., at 364, 90 S.Ct., at 1072.

Five years after Winship, the Court applied the principle to the related question of allocating burdens of proof in a criminal case. Mullaney v. Wilbur, supra. Mullaney arose in the context of a Maine statute providing that "[w]hoever unlawfully kills a human being with malice aforethought, either express or implied, is guilty of murder and shall be punished by imprisonment for life." Id., 421 U.S., at 686, n. 3, 95 S.Ct., at 1883, n. 3. The trial judge had instructed the jury under this statute that "if the prosecution established that the homicide was both intentional and unlawful, malice aforethought was to be conclusively implied unless the defendant proved by a fair preponderance of the evidence that he acted in the heat of passion on sudden provocation." 1 Id., at 686, 95 S.Ct., at 1883. Thus, despite the fact that malice was an element of the offense of murder, the law of Maine provided that, if the defendant contended that he acted without malice, but rather "in the heat of passion on sudden provocation," he, not the prosecution, was required to bear the burden of persuasion by a "fair preponderance of the evidence." Ibid. Noting that "[t]he result, in a case such as this one where the defendant is required to prove the critical fact in dispute, is to increase further the likelihood of an erroneous murder conviction," id., at 701, 95 S.Ct., at 1890, Mullaney held that due process requires the prosecution to bear the burden of persuasion with respect to each element of a crime.

Finally, Hankerson v. North Carolina, supra, held that Mullaney was to have retroactive application. In reaching this conclusion, the Court followed Ivan V. v. City of New York, 407 U.S. 203, 92 S.Ct. 1951, 32 L.Ed.2d 659 (1972), which had held that Winship was retroactively applicable. Quoting Ivan V. and Winship, the Court stated:

" 'The [reasonable-doubt] standard provides concrete substance for the presumption of innocence—that bedrock "axiomatic and elementary" principle whose "enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law". . . . "Due process commands that no man shall lose his liberty unless the Government has borne its burden of . . . convincing the factfinder of his guilt." To this end, the reasonable-doubt standard is indispensable, for it "impresses on the trier of fact the necessity of reaching a subjective state of certitude of the facts in issue." ' " Hankerson, supra, 432 U.S., at 241, 97 S.Ct., at 2344 (quoting Ivan V., supra, 407 U.S., at 204-205, 92 S.Ct., at 1952 (quoting Winship, supra, 397 U.S., at 363-364, 90 S.Ct., at 1072-1073)).

Hankerson further stated that, regardless of the administrative costs involved in the retroactive application of a new constitutional doctrine, " '[w]here the major purpose of new constitutional doctrine is to overcome an aspect of the criminal trial that substantially impairs its truth-finding function and so raises serious questions about the accuracy of guilty verdicts in past trials, the new rule [is] given complete retroactive effect.' " 432 U.S., at 243, 97 S.Ct., at 2345 (quoting Ivan V., supra, 407 U.S., at 204, 92 S.Ct., at 1952) (emphasis in original). In this case, we are called upon again, in effect, to revisit our decision in Hankerson with respect to a particular set of administrative costs—namely, the costs imposed on state courts by the federal courts' exercise of their habeas corpus jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 2254.2

B

Ross was tried for murder under the same North Carolina burden-of-proof law that gave rise to Hankerson's claim in Hankerson v. North Carolina.3 That law, followed in North Carolina for over 100 years, was summarized by the North Carolina Supreme Court in State v. Hankerson, 288 N.C. 632, 647, 220 S.E.2d 575, 586 (1975), as follows:

"[W]hen it is established by a defendant's judicial admission, or the State proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally inflicted a wound upon the deceased with a deadly weapon which proximately caused death, the law raises two presumptions against the defendant: (1) the killing was unlawful, and (2) it was done with malice. Nothing else appearing in the case the defendant would be guilty of murder in the second degree. When these presumptions arise the burden devolves upon the defendant to prove to the satisfaction of the jury the legal provocation which will rob the crime of malice and reduce it to manslaughter or which will excuse the killing altogether on the ground of self-defense. If the defendant rebuts the presumption of malice only, the presumption that the killing was unlawful remains, making the crime manslaughter."

In accordance with this well-settled state...

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