Smith v. Murray,
477 U.S. 527 (1986)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Smith v. Murray, 477 U.S. 527 (1986)

Smith v. Murray

No. 85-5487

Argued March 4, 1986

Decided June 26, 1986

477 U.S. 527


Prior to petitioner's trial in a Virginia state court for murder of a woman, he was examined by a psychiatrist appointed by the court at the request of his counsel. During the examination, the psychiatrist asked petitioner both about the murder and prior incidents of deviant sexual conduct, and petitioner stated that he once tore the clothes off a girl on a school bus before deciding not to rape her. Following a jury trial, petitioner was convicted. At the sentencing phase, the prosecution called the psychiatrist to the stand, and, over the defense's objection, he described the incident on the school bus. After further evidence was presented both for the prosecution and petitioner, the jury recommended the death sentence. On appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia, petitioner raised a number of claims, but did not assign any error concerning the admission of the psychiatrist's testimony, his counsel later explaining at a postconviction hearing that he had decided not to pursue that claim after determining that Virginia case law would not support his position at the time. The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence, not addressing any issues concerning the prosecution's use of the psychiatric testimony because, under a rule of the court, only errors assigned by the appellant would be considered. After exhausting state remedies, petitioner sought a writ of habeas corpus in Federal District Court, which denied the petition. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Petitioner defaulted his underlying constitutional claim as to the admission of the psychiatrist's testimony by failing to press it before the Supreme Court of Virginia on direct appeal. Murray v. Carrier, ante p. 477 U. S. 478. Pp. 477 U. S. 533-539.

(a) Petitioner has not carried his burden of showing cause for his noncompliance with Virginia's rules of procedure. A deliberate, tactical decision not to pursue a particular claim is the very antithesis of the kind of circumstance that would warrant excusing a defendant's failure to adhere to a State's rules for the fair and orderly disposition of its criminal cases. Here, counsel's decision not to press the claim in question was not an error of such magnitude that it rendered his performance constitutionally deficient under the test of Strickland v. Washington, 466

Page 477 U. S. 528

U.S. 668. Nor can petitioner rely on the novelty of the claim as "cause" for noncompliance with Virginia's rules, where it appears that various forms of such a claim had been percolating in the lower courts for years at the time of petitioner's original appeal. Pp. 477 U. S. 533-537.

(b) It is clear on the record that application of the cause and prejudice test will not result in a "fundamental miscarriage of justice," where the alleged constitutional error neither precluded the development of true facts nor resulted in the admission of false ones. Thus, even assuming that, as a legal matter, the psychiatrist's testimony should not have been presented to the jury, its admission did not pervert the jury's deliberations concerning the ultimate question of whether, in fact, petitioner constituted a continuing threat to society. Pp. 477 U. S. 537-539.

769 F.2d 170, affirmed.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, ante, p. 477 U. S. 516. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, and in Parts II and III of which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 477 U. S. 539.

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