Amadeo v. Zant
486 U.S. 214 (1988)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Amadeo v. Zant, 486 U.S. 214 (1988)

Amadeo v. Zant

No. 87-5277

Argued March 28, 1988

Decided May 31, 1988

486 U.S. 214

Syllabus

Petitioner was convicted of murder and criminal attempt to commit theft in the Superior Court of Putnam County, Georgia. In accordance with the jury's recommendation of death, the court imposed the death penalty for the murder charge, and a 10-year sentence for the attempted theft charge. While petitioner's direct appeal was pending, an independent civil action involving a challenge to voting procedures in Putnam County was brought in Federal District Court, which found that a memorandum from the District Attorney's Office to the Putnam County Jury Commissioners was intentionally designed to result in underrepresentation of black people and women in the master jury lists from which all grand and traverse (petit) juries were drawn. Bailey v. Vining, Civ. Action No. 76-199 MAC (MD Ga., Aug. 17, 1978). One of the plaintiffs' attorneys had uncovered the memorandum while researching the case. The District Court in Bailey concluded that the master lists could not be used for any purpose until the unconstitutional discrimination had been corrected, and ordered the Jury Commissioners to reconstitute the lists in conformity with the Constitution. Citing Bailey, petitioner's attorneys, on his direct appeal, raised a challenge to the composition of the Putnam County juries that had indicted, convicted, and sentenced petitioner. Affirming petitioner's convictions and sentences, the Georgia Supreme Court rejected his challenge to the jury on the ground that it came too late. After exhausting his state remedies, petitioner sought a writ of habeas corpus in Federal District Court on the basis of the jury composition issue, before the same judge who had decided the Bailey case. Granting the writ and noting the Bailey decision, the court concluded that petitioner had established sufficient cause for his failure to raise in the trial court the jury challenge and sufficient prejudice to excuse the procedural default. The Court of Appeals found the record insufficiently developed for proper review of the question of cause, and remanded for an evidentiary hearing. On remand, the District Court held a hearing at which it received testimony from petitioner's trial lawyers, a lawyer who assisted petitioner's lawyers in developing the jury challenge on direct appeal, and the lawyer who discovered the memorandum in the Bailey case. The judge then reaffirmed his earlier conclusion that petitioner had demonstrated adequate cause to excuse his

Page 486 U. S. 215

procedural default. The Court of Appeals reversed, stating that it "disagreed" with the District Court's conclusion that the racial disparity on the jury lists was concealed by county officials. The Court of Appeals found instead that the memorandum was readily discoverable in the public records, and that the lawyers had made a considered tactical decision not to mount a jury challenge. In light of its findings, the court concluded that petitioner had not established cause for his failure to raise the constitutional challenge in accordance with Georgia procedural law.

Held: The factual findings upon which the District Court based its conclusion that petitioner had established cause for his procedural default were not clearly erroneous, and should not have been set aside by the Court of Appeals. Pp. 486 U. S. 221-229.

(a) Although a "tactical" or "intentional" decision to forgo a procedural opportunity in state court normally cannot constitute cause, the failure of counsel to raise a constitutional issue reasonably unknown to him is a situation in which the cause requirement is met. A showing that the factual or legal basis for a claim was not reasonably available to counsel, or that some interference by officials made compliance impracticable, constitutes cause. The facts found by the District Court here permitted the court's legal conclusion that petitioner had established cause for his procedural default. If the District Attorney's memorandum was not reasonably discoverable because it was concealed by county officials, and if that concealment, rather than tactical considerations, was the reason for the failure of petitioner's lawyers to raise the jury challenge in the trial court, then petitioner established ample cause to excuse his procedural default. The Court of Appeals offered factual, rather than legal, grounds for its reversal of the District Court's order, concluding that neither of the two factual predicates for the District Court's legal conclusion was supported by the record. However, a federal appellate court may set aside a trial court's factfindings only if they are "clearly erroneous," and must give due regard to the trial court's opportunity to judge the credibility of the witnesses. The record viewed in its entirety establishes that the Court of Appeals failed properly to apply the "clearly erroneous" standard. Pp. 486 U. S. 221-223.

(b) The District Court's factual finding that the District Attorney's memorandum was concealed by county officials, and therefore was not reasonably available to petitioner's lawyers, was not clearly erroneous. Based on the record, the District Court permissibly could have concluded that the memorandum was discovered by mere fortuity, and that it would not have been "readily discoverable" had petitioner's trial attorneys investigated the jury lists that were relevant to his trial. The Court of Appeals identified no evidence in the record -- aside from the

Page 486 U. S. 216

fact that the memorandum eventually was discovered -- that contradicted the District Court's conclusions about the concealment and availability of the memorandum. Pp. 486 U. S. 223-224.

(c) The District Court's conclusion that petitioner's lawyers did not deliberately bypass the jury challenge also was not clearly erroneous. Although there is significant evidence in the record to support the findings of fact favored by the Court of Appeals, there is also significant evidence to support the District Court's contrary conclusion. Where there are two permissible views of the evidence, the factfinder's choice between them cannot be clearly erroneous. Here, the District Court reasonably could have concluded that the trial lawyers' statements that they considered but ultimately rejected a jury challenge simply were not credible. This conclusion was also supported by the directly contradictory testimony of two other witnesses at the habeas corpus hearing and by events contemporaneous with the jury selection process. The District Court's lack of precision about the bases for its factual conclusions furnishes no excuse to ignore the dictates of the clearly erroneous standard and to engage in impermissible appellate factfinding. Pp. 486 U. S. 224-229.

816 F.2d 1502, reversed and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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