464 U.S. 1053 (1984)

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U.S. Supreme Court

MCKASKLE v. VELA , 464 U.S. 1053 (1984)

464 U.S. 1053

McKASKLE, Director, Texas Department of Corrections v. Conrado VELA
No. 83-506 Supreme Court of the United States January 9, 1984

On petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The motion of respondent for leave to proceed in forma pauperis is granted. The petition for writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice O'CONNOR, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and Justice REHNQUIST join, dissenting from denial of certiorari.

This petition presents the important question whether the exhaustion rule in 28 U.S.C. 2254(b), (c) prohibits federal courts from considering federal habeas corpus petitions that contain specific allegations of error that are integral to the constitutional challenge but were not raised in the state courts. Because the question has great significance for the relations between federal and state courts, I would grant the petition for certiorari.


Respondent, Conrado Vela, pleaded guilty to a Texas murder indictment . After a jury found he had killed with malice, respondent was sentenced to 99 years imprisonment. The conviction was upheld on direct appeal. See Vela v. State, 516 S.W.2d 176 (Tex.Cr.App.1974). Respondent then filed consecutive petitions for writs of habeas corpus in state and federal courts, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. In both petitions, respondent raised the same three allegations of error as support for his ineffective assistance of counsel claim. Both the state courts and the Federal District Court found that the three errors, when considered in the context of the entire record, were not cumulatively of such magnitude to render counsel's conduct of the trial as a whole constitutionally infirm. The courts also held that respondent was not prejudiced from any inadequacy that could be found. See Ex Parte Vela, Application No. 9209, at 20-22 (June 4, 1980) (state court); Supp.App. E1- E8 (Federal District Court).

Page 464 U.S. 1053 , 1054

Respondent appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, presenting the same three allegations of counsel error and, for the first time, raising other allegations of error as well. The Court of Appeals decided that the exhaustion requirement of 28 U.S.C. 2254(b), (c) did not prevent it from considering the additional instances of alleged ineffective assistance. Though these additional instances of ineffectiveness had not specifically been brought to the attention of the state courts, the Court of Appeals noted that the alleged errors were contained in the trial record and that the state courts purportedly had reviewed the entire record in finding counsel's performance adequate in the "totality of the circumstances." Thus, the Court of Appeals concluded that "the alleged 'new facts' [were] not new at all," and that respondent had exhausted all available state remedies. App. to Pet. for Cert. B15- B16. On the merits, it found that respondent had received ineffective assistance at trial because his counsel had committed the three "central errors" raised in the state court petition and "several other serious errors as well." Id., at B18-B28. The Court concluded that respondent had suffered prejudice of sufficient magnitude to warrant granting a writ of habeas corpus. Id., at B28-B30.


Whatever the correctness of the Court of Appeals' "ineffective assistance" determination, see Supp.App. E2-E8, this petition raises an issue of considerable importance to the administration of federal habeas corpus. The Fifth Circuit's consideration of factual allegations not specifically raised in the state court undermines the policies behind the requirement that state remedies be exhausted before federal habeas corpus relief becomes available.

The exhaustion rule "reflects a policy of federal-state comity" that is fundamental to our federal system. Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275, 512 (1971). It "serves to minimize friction between our federal and state systems of justice by allowing the State an initial opportunity to pass upon and correct alleged violations of prisoners' federal rights." Duckworth v. Serrano, 454 U.S. 1, 2, 19 (1981) (per curiam ). For the State to have that opportunity, "the federal claim must be fairly presented to the state courts." Picard v. Connor, supra, 404 U.S., at 275. A federal habeas petitioner making a claim critically dependent on specific allegations of error never [464 U.S. 1053 , 1055]

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