Reed v. Ross
468 U.S. 1 (1984)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Reed v. Ross, 468 U.S. 1 (1984)

Reed v. Ross

No. 83-218

Argued March 27, 1984

Decided June 27, 1984

468 U.S. 1

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, 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, 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, and United States v. Frady,456 U. S. 152, 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

Page 468 U. S. 2

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. 468 U. S. 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. 468 U. S. 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. 468 U. S. 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. 468 U. S. 16-20.

704 F.2d 705, affirmed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 468 U. S. 20. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 468 U. S. 21.

Page 468 U. S. 3

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