Marshall v. Lonberger
Annotate this Case
459 U.S. 422 (1983)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Marshall v. Lonberger, 459 U.S. 422 (1983)
Marshall v. Lonberger
Argued October 5, 1982
Decided February 22, 1983
459 U.S. 422
In an application in a federal court by a state prisoner for a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) establishes a presumption of correctness for
"a determination after a hearing on the merits of a factual issue, made by a State court of competent jurisdiction in a proceeding to which the applicant for the writ and the State . . . were parties, evidenced by a written finding, written opinion, or other reliable and adequate written indicia."
An exception to this presumption occurs where the federal habeas court, on reviewing the state court record, concludes that the state court's factual finding "is not fairly supported by the record." Respondent was convicted of murder at a jury trial in an Ohio court. At the trial, the prosecution sought to prove a "specification," for purposes of obtaining the death penalty against respondent. There were admitted into evidence, to be considered only in connection with the specification, a copy of an Illinois indictment, a copy of a so-called "conviction statement," and the transcript of a hearing in an Illinois trial court in which respondent pleaded guilty to charges in the indictment. Before admitting such evidence, the Ohio trial court conducted a hearing to determine whether respondent's guilty plea to the Illinois charge was knowing and voluntary. On review of the Illinois records and upon testimony by respondent as to his recollection of the Illinois proceedings, the court held that respondent had intelligently and voluntarily entered his plea of guilty in the Illinois court. Upholding respondent's murder conviction, the Ohio Court of Appeals held that the specification based on the prior Illinois conviction was adequately proved, and that the trial court did not err in ruling that respondent's guilty plea in the Illinois court was knowing and voluntary, and should be submitted to the jury. Subsequently, respondent brought a habeas corpus proceeding in Federal District Court, which denied relief. The United States Court of Appeals reversed, holding that respondent's plea of guilty to the previous Illinois charge was invalid, and that its admission into evidence at the Ohio trial rendered respondent's ensuing murder conviction unconstitutional. The court, noting that no express finding was made concerning respondent's credibility as a witness, credited his testimony at the Ohio trial court hearing, absent contrary evidence by the State.
Held: The admission in the Ohio murder trial of respondent's Illinois conviction based upon a guilty plea did not deprive respondent of any federal right. Pp. 430-439.
(a) Whether the Court of Appeals' reassessment of the effect of respondent's testimony at the Ohio trial court hearing was undertaken because of the trial court's failure to make express findings as to respondent's credibility or whether the Court of Appeals felt it should assess for itself the weight that such evidence should have been accorded by the Ohio trial court, the Court of Appeals erroneously applied the "fairly supported by the record" standard enunciated in § 2254(d). The Court of Appeals' reliance on respondent's testimony and the fact that the State produced no contrary evidence are wide of the mark for purposes of deciding whether factual findings are fairly supported by the record. Section 2254(d) gives federal habeas courts no license to redetermine credibility of witnesses whose demeanor has been observed by the state trial court but not by them. Pp. 459 U. S. 432-436.
(b) Respondent must be presumed to have been informed, either by his lawyers or at one of the Illinois presentencing proceedings, of the charges on which he was indicted in Illinois. Henderson v. Morgan, 426 U. S. 637. Applying this standard to the factual determinations arising from the Ohio trial court proceedings which were "fairly supported by the record" within the meaning of § 2254(d), this Court cannot accept the Court of Appeals' conclusion that respondent's guilty plea to the Illinois charge was not voluntary and knowing in the constitutional meaning of those terms. Pp. 459 U. S. 436-438.
(c) Because respondent's prior conviction was valid, this case is controlled by Spencer v. Texas, 385 U. S. 554, which is reaffirmed. The Due Process Clause does not permit the federal courts to engage in a finely tuned review of the wisdom of state evidentiary rules. The jury in respondent's trial was instructed to consider the prior conviction only in determining whether the specification was proved, and it is a "crucial assumption" of the jury trial system that juries will obey their instructions. Moreover, as recognized by the common law, any unfairness resulting from admitting prior convictions generally is balanced by their probative value. Pp. 459 U. S. 438-439, n. 6.
651 F.2d 447, reversed.
REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C. J., and WHITE, POWELL, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 459 U. S. 439. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 459 U. S. 447. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 447.