Murray v. Carrier,
477 U.S. 478 (1986)

Annotate this Case
  • Syllabus  | 
  • Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478 (1986)

Murray v. Carrier

No. 84-1554

Argued January 21, 1986

Decided June 26, 1986

477 U.S. 478


Respondent was convicted by a jury in a Virginia state court of rape and abduction. The trial judge denied respondent's counsel's pretrial motion to discover the victim's statements to police describing her assailants, their vehicle, and the location of the alleged rape. Without consulting respondent, counsel filed a petition for appeal that failed to include any claim that the trial judge erred in not permitting counsel to examine the victim's statements, notwithstanding a Virginia Supreme Court Rule providing that only errors assigned in the petition for appeal will be noticed, and that no error not so assigned will be admitted as a ground for reversal. The Virginia Supreme Court refused the appeal, and this Court denied certiorari. Thereafter, respondent filed a pro se state habeas corpus petition, claiming that he had been denied due process of law by the prosecution's withholding of the victim's statements. The state court denied the petition on the ground that the claim was barred because respondent failed to raise it on appeal, and the Virginia Supreme Court denied certiorari. Respondent then filed a pro se habeas petition in Federal District Court, which also held that the discovery claim was barred by procedural default. On appeal, respondent disavowed any claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, but asserted that counsel had mistakenly omitted his discovery claim from the state petition for appeal, and that this error was cause for his default. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that a federal habeas petitioner need only satisfy the district court that the procedural default resulted from his attorney's ignorance or inadvertence, rather than from a deliberate tactical decision. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals remanded to the District Court to resolve the question of respondent's counsel's motivation for failing to appeal the discovery claim.

Held: A federal habeas petitioner, such as respondent, cannot show cause for a procedural default by establishing that competent defense counsel's failure to raise a substantive claim of error was inadvertent, rather than deliberate. Pp. 477 U. S. 485-497.

(a) The mere fact that counsel failed to recognize the factual or legal basis for a claim, or failed to raise the claim despite recognizing it, does not constitute cause for a procedural default. Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S.

Page 477 U. S. 479

107. The question of cause for a procedural default does not turn on whether counsel erred or on the kind of error counsel may have made. So long as a defendant is represented by counsel whose performance is not constitutionally ineffective under the standard established in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668, there is no inequity in requiring him to bear the risk of attorney error that results in a procedural default. Instead, the existence of cause for a procedural default must ordinarily turn on whether the prisoner can show that some objective factor external to the defense impeded counsel's efforts to comply with the State's procedural rule. While ineffective assistance of counsel constitutes cause for a procedural default, the exhaustion doctrine generally requires that an ineffective assistance claim be presented to the state courts as an independent claim before it may be used to establish cause for a procedural default in federal habeas proceedings. Pp. 477 U. S. 485-490.

(b) There is no merit to respondent's argument that, even if counsel's ignorance or inadvertence does not constitute cause for a procedural default at trial, it does constitute cause for a procedural default on appeal. A State's procedural rules serve vital purposes on appeal, as well as at trial and on state collateral attack, and the standard for cause should not vary depending on the timing of a procedural default. The frustration of the State's interests that occurs when an appellate procedural rule is broken is not significantly diminished when counsel's breach results from ignorance or inadvertence, rather than from a deliberate decision, tactical or not, to abstain from raising the claim. Failure to raise a claim on appeal reduces the finality of appellate proceedings, deprives the appellate court of an opportunity to review trial error, and undercuts the State's ability to enforce its procedural rules. As with procedural defaults at trial, these costs are imposed on the State regardless of the kind of attorney error that led to the procedural default. Whatever may be the case where counsel has failed to take an appeal at all, counsel's failure to raise a particular claim on appeal is to be scrutinized under the cause and prejudice standard when that failure is treated as a procedural default by the state courts. Attorney error short of ineffective assistance of counsel does not constitute cause for a procedural default, even when that default occurs on appeal, rather than at trial. To the contrary, cause for a procedural default on appeal ordinarily requires a showing of some external impediment preventing counsel from constructing or raising the claim. Pp. 477 U. S. 490-492.

(c) Adherence to the cause and prejudice test in the conjunctive will not prevent federal habeas corpus courts from ensuring the fundamental fairness that is the central concern of the writ of habeas corpus. That test is a sound and workable means of channeling the discretion of federal habeas courts. However, in an extraordinary case, where a constitutional

Page 477 U. S. 480

violation has probably resulted in the conviction of one who is actually innocent, a federal habeas court may grant the writ, even in the absence of a showing of cause for the procedural default. Pp. 477 U. S. 492-497.

(d) Respondent has never alleged any external impediment that might have prevented counsel from raising his discovery claim in his state petition for review, and has disavowed any claim that counsel's performance on appeal was so deficient as to make out an ineffective assistance claim. Accordingly, respondent's petition for federal habeas review of his procedurally defaulted discovery claim must be dismissed for failure to establish cause for the default, unless it is determined on remand that the victim's statements contain material that would establish respondent's actual innocence. P. 477 U. S. 497.

754 F.2d 520, reversed and remanded.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 477 U. S. 497. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 477 U. S. 516.

Page 477 U. S. 481

Disclaimer: Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.