Harris v. Reed
489 U.S. 255 (1989)

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U.S. Supreme Court

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

Harris v. Reed

No. 87-5677

Argued October 12, 1988

Decided February 22, 1989

489 U.S. 255

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, 463 U. S. 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. 489 U. S. 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

Page 489 U. S. 256

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. 489 U. S. 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. 489 U. S. 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, 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. 489 U. S. 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. 489 U. S. 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. 489 U. S. 268. KENNEDY, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 489 U. S. 271.

Page 489 U. S. 257

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