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Wainwright v. Sykes

June 23, 1977




During respondent's trial for murder, inculpatory statements made by him to police officers were admitted into evidence. No challenge was made on the ground that respondent had not understood warnings read to him pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 ; nor did the trial judge sua sponte question their admissibility or hold a factfinding hearing. Respondent, who was convicted, did not challenge the admissibility of the statements on appeal, though later he did so, unavailingly, in a motion to vacate the conviction and in state habeas corpus petitions. He then brought this federal habeas corpus action under 28 U.S.C. 2254, asserting the inadmissibility of his statements by reason of his lack of understanding of the Miranda warnings. The District Court ruled that under Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368 , respondent had a right to a hearing in the state court on the voluntariness of the statements, and that he had not lost that right by failing to assert his claim at trial or on appeal. The Court of Appeals agreed that respondent was entitled to a Jackson v. Denno hearing and ruled that respondent's failure to comply with Florida's procedural "contemporaneous objection rule" (which, except as specified, requires a defendant to make a motion to suppress evidence prior to trial) would not bar review of the suppression claim unless the right to object was deliberately bypassed for tactical reasons. Held: Respondent's failure to make timely objection under the Florida contemporaneous-objection rule to the admission of his inculpatory statements, absent a showing of cause for the noncompliance and some showing of actual prejudice, bars federal habeas corpus review of his Miranda claim. Davis v. United States, 411 U.S. 233 ; Francis v. Henderson, 425 U.S. 536 . Pp. 77-91.

(a) Florida's rule in unmistakable terms and with specified exceptions requires that motions to suppress be raised before trial. P. 85.

(b) There is no constitutional requirement in Jackson v. Denno, supra, or later cases that there be a voluntariness hearing absent some contemporaneous challenge to the use of a confession. P. 86.

(c) The sweeping language set forth in Fay v. Noia, 372 U.S. 391 , which would render a State's contemporaneous-objection rule ineffective to bar review of underlying federal claims in federal habeas corpus proceedings - absent a "knowing waiver" or a "deliberate bypass" of the right to so object - is rejected as according too little respect to the state contemporaneous-objection rule. Such a rule enables the record to be made with respect to a constitutional claim when witnesses' recollections are freshest; enables the trial judge who observed the demeanor of witnesses to make the factual determinations necessary for properly deciding the federal question; and may, by forcing a trial court decision on the merits of federal constitutional contentions, contribute to the finality of criminal litigation. Conversely, the rule of Fay v. Noia may encourage defense lawyers to take their chances on a verdict of not guilty in a state trial court, intending to raise their constitutional claims in a federal habeas corpus court if their initial gamble fails, and detracts from the perception of the trial of a criminal case as a decisive and portentous event. Pp. 87-90.

(d) Adoption of the "cause" and "prejudice" test of Francis, while giving greater respect than did Fay to the operation of state contemporaneous-objection rules, affords an adequate guarantee that federal habeas corpus courts will not be barred from hearing claims involving an actual miscarriage of justice. The procedural history of this case and the evidence as presented at trial indicate that there exist here neither "cause" nor "prejudice" as are necessary to support federal habeas corpus review of the underlying constitutional contention: Pp. 90-91.

528 F.2d 522, reversed and remanded.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Rehnquist

Argued March 29, 1977

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C. J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BURGER, C. J., post, p. 91, and STEVENS, J., post, p. 94, filed concurring opinions. WHITE, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 97. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 99.

We granted certiorari to consider the availability of federal habeas corpus to review a state convict's claim that testimony was admitted at his trial in violation of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), a claim which the Florida courts have previously refused to consider on the merits because of noncompliance with a state contemporaneous-objection rule. Petitioner Wainwright, on behalf of the State of Florida, here challenges a decision of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ordering a hearing in state court on the merits of respondent's contention.

Respondent Sykes was convicted of third-degree murder after a jury trial in the Circuit Court of DeSoto County. He testified at trial that on the evening of January 8, 1972, he told his wife to summon the police because he had just shot Willie Gilbert. Other evidence indicated that when the police arrived at respondent's trailer home, they found Gilbert dead of a shotgun wound, lying a few feet from the front porch. Shortly after their arrival, respondent came from across the road and volunteered that he had shot Gilbert, and a few minutes later respondent's wife approached the police and told them the same thing. Sykes was immediately arrested and taken to the police station.

Once there, it is conceded that he was read his Miranda rights, and that he declined to seek the aid of counsel and indicated a desire to talk. He then made a statement, which was admitted into evidence at trial through the testimony of the two officers who heard it, *fn1 to the effect that he had shot Gilbert from the front porch of his trailer home. There were several references during the trial to respondent's consumption of alcohol during the preceding day and to his apparent state of intoxication, facts which were acknowledged by the officers who arrived at the scene. At no time during the trial, however, was the admissibility of any of respondent's statements challenged by his counsel on the ground that respondent had not understood the Miranda warnings. *fn2 Nor did the trial judge question their admissibility on his own motion or hold a factfinding hearing bearing on that issue.

Respondent appealed his conviction, but apparently did not challenge the admissibility of the inculpatory statements. *fn3 He later filed in the trial court a motion to vacate the conviction and, in the State District Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, petitions for habeas corpus. These filings, apparently for the first time, challenged the statements made to police on grounds of involuntariness. In all of these efforts respondent was unsuccessful.

Having failed in the Florida courts, respondent initiated the present action under 28 U.S.C. 2254, asserting the inadmissibility of his statements by reason of his lack of understanding of the Miranda warnings. *fn4 The United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida ruled that Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368 (1964), requires a hearing in a state criminal trial prior to the admission of an inculpatory out-of-court statement by the defendant. It held further that respondent had not lost his right to assert such a claim by failing to object at trial or on direct appeal, since only "exceptional circumstances" of "strategic decisions at trial" can create such a bar to raising federal constitutional claims in a federal habeas action. The court stayed issuance of the writ to allow the state court to hold a hearing on the "voluntariness" of the statements.

Petitioner warden appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. That court first considered the nature of the right to exclusion of statements made without a knowing waiver of the right to counsel and the right not to incriminate oneself. It noted that Jackson v. Denno, supra, guarantees a right to a hearing on whether a defendant has knowingly waived his rights as described to him in the Miranda warnings, and stated that under Florida law "[t]he burden is on the State to secure [a] prima facie determination of voluntariness, not upon the defendant to demand it." 528 F.2d 522, 525 (1976).

The court then directed its attention to the effect on respondent's right of Florida Rule Crim. Proc. 3.190 (i), *fn5 which it described as "a contemporaneous objection rule" applying to motions to suppress a defendant's inculpatory statements. It focused on this Court's decisions in Henry v. Mississippi, 379 U.S. 443 (1965); Davis v. United States, 411 U.S. 233 (1973); and Fay v. Noia, 372 U.S. 391 (1963), and concluded that the failure to comply with the rule requiring objection at the trial would only bar review of the suppression claim where the right to object was deliberately bypassed for reasons relating to trial tactics. The Court of Appeals distinguished our decision in Davis, supra (where failure to comply with a rule requiring pretrial objection to the indictment was found to bar habeas review of the underlying constitutional claim absent showing of cause for the failure and prejudice resulting), for the reason that "[a] major tenet of the Davis decision was that no prejudice was shown" to have resulted from the failure to object. It found that prejudice is "inherent" in any situation, like the present one, where the admissibility of an incriminating statement is concerned. Concluding that "[t]he failure to object in this case cannot be dismissed as a trial tactic, and thus a deliberate by-pass," the court affirmed the District Court order that the State hold a hearing on whether respondent knowingly waived his Miranda rights at the time he made the statements.

The simple legal question before the Court calls for a construction of the language of 28 U.S.C. 2254 (a), which provides that the federal courts shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus "in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." But, to put it mildly, we do not write on a clean slate in construing this statutory provision. *fn6 Its earliest counterpart, applicable only to prisoners detained by federal authority, is found in the Judiciary Act of 1789. Construing that statute for the Court in Ex parte Watkins, 3 Pet. 193, 202 (1830), Mr. Chief Justice Marshall said:

"An imprisonment under a judgment cannot be unlawful, unless that judgment be an absolute nullity; and it is not a nullity if the Court has general jurisdiction of the subject, although it should be erroneous." See Ex parte Kearney, 7 Wheat, 38 (1822).

In 1867, Congress expanded the statutory language so as to make the writ available to one held in state as well as federal custody. For more than a century since the 1867 amendment, this Court has grappled with the relationship between the classical common-law writ of habeas corpus and the remedy provided in 28 U.S.C. 2254. Sharp division within the Court has been manifested on more than one aspect of the perplexing problems which have been litigated in this connection. Where the habeas petitioner challenges a final judgment of conviction rendered by a state court, this Court has been called upon to decide no fewer than four different questions, all to a degree interrelated with one another: (1) What types of federal claims may a federal habeas court properly consider? (2) Where a federal claim is cognizable by a federal habeas court, to what extent must that court defer to a resolution of the claim in prior state proceedings? (3) To what extent must the petitioner who seeks federal habeas exhaust state remedies before resorting to the federal court? (4) In what instances will an adequate and independent state ground bar consideration of otherwise cognizable federal issues on federal habeas review?

Each of these four issues has spawned its share of litigation. With respect to the first, the rule laid down in Ex parte Watkins, supra, was gradually changed by judicial decisions expanding the availability of habeas relief beyond attacks focused narrowly on the jurisdiction of the sentencing court. See Ex parte Wells, 18 How. 307 (1856); Ex parte Lange, 18 Wall. 163 (1874). Ex parte Siebold, 100 U.S. 371 (1880), authorized use of the writ to challenge a conviction under a federal statute where the statute was claimed to violate the United States Constitution. Frank v. Mangum, 237 U.S. 309 (1915), and Moore v. Dempsey, 261 U.S. 86 (1923), though in large part inconsistent with one another, together broadened the concept of jurisdiction to allow review of a claim of "mob domination" of what was in all other respects a trial in a court of competent jurisdiction.

In Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 463 (1938), an indigent federal prisoner's claim that he was denied the right to counsel at his trial was held to state a contention going to the "power and authority" of the trial court, which might be reviewed on habeas. Finally, in Waley v. Johnston, 316 U.S. 101 (1942), the Court openly discarded the concept of jurisdiction - by then more a fiction than anything else - as a touchstone of the availability of federal habeas review, and acknowledged that such review is available for claims of "disregard of the constitutional rights of the accused, and where the writ is the only effective means of preserving his rights." Id., at 104-105. In Brown v. Allen, 344 U.S. 443 (1953), it was made explicit that a state prisoner's challenge to the trial court's resolution of dispositive federal issues is always fair game on federal habeas. Only last Term in Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465 (1976), the Court removed from the purview of a federal habeas court challenges resting on the Fourth Amendment, where there has been a full and fair opportunity to raise them in the state court. See Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 250 (1973) (POWELL, J., concurring).

The degree of deference to be given to a state court's resolution of a federal-law issue was elaborately canvassed in the Court's opinion in Brown v. Allen, supra. Speaking for the Court, Mr. Justice Reed stated: "[Such] state adjudication carries the weight that federal practice gives to the conclusion of a court of last resort of another jurisdiction on federal constitutional issues. It is not res judicata." 344 U.S., at 458 . The duty of the federal habeas court to hold a factfinding hearing in specific situations, notwithstanding the prior resolution of the issues in state court, was thoroughly explored in this Court's later decision in Townsend v. Sain, 372 U.S. 293 (1963). Congress addressed this aspect of federal habeas in 1966 when it amended 2254 to deal with the problem treated in Townsend. 80 Stat. 1105. See LaVallee v. Delle Rose, 410 U.S. 690 (1973).

The exhaustion-of-state-remedies requirement was first articulated by this Court in the case of Ex parte Royall, 117 U.S. 241 (1886). There, a state defendant sought habeas in advance of trial on a claim that he had been indicted under an unconstitutional statute. The writ was dismissed by the District Court, and this Court affirmed, stating that while there was power in the federal courts to entertain such petitions, as a matter of comity they should usually stay their hand pending consideration of the issue in the normal course of the state trial. This rule has been followed in subsequent cases, e. g., Cook v. Hart, 146 U.S. 183 (1892); Whitten v. Tomlinson, 160 U.S. 231 (1895); Baker v. Grice, 169 U.S. 284 (1898); Mooney v. Holohan, 294 U.S. 103 (1935), and has been incorporated into the language of 2254. *fn7 Like other issues surrounding the availability of federal habeas corpus relief, though, this line of authority has not been without historical uncertainties and changes in direction on the part of the Court. See Ex parte Hawk, 321 U.S. 114, 116 -117 (1944); Darr v. Burford, 339 U.S. 200 (1950); Irvin v. Dowd, 359 U.S. 394, 405 -406 (1959); Fay v. Noia, 372 U.S. 391, 435 (1963).

There is no need to consider here in greater detail these first three areas of controversy attendant to federal habeas review of state convictions. Only the fourth area - the adequacy of state grounds to bar federal habeas review - is presented in this case. The foregoing discussion of the other three is pertinent here only as it illustrates this Court's historic willingness to overturn or modify its earlier views of the scope of the writ, even where the statutory language authorizing judicial action has remained unchanged.

As to the role of adequate and independent state grounds, it is a well-established principle of federalism that a state decision resting on an adequate foundation of state substantive law is immune from review in the federal courts. Fox Film Corp. v. Muller, 296 U.S. 207 (1935); Murdock v. Memphis, 20 Wall. 590 (1875). The application of this principle in the context of a federal habeas proceeding has therefore excluded from consideration any questions of state substantive law, and thus effectively barred federal habeas review where questions of that sort are either the only ones raised by a petitioner or are in themselves dispositive of his case. The area of controversy which has developed has concerned the reviewability of federal claims which the state court has declined to pass on because not presented in the manner prescribed by its procedural rules. The adequacy of such an independent state procedural ground to prevent federal habeas review of the underlying federal issue has been treated very differently than where the state-law ground is substantive. The pertinent decisions marking the Court's somewhat tortuous efforts to deal with this problem are: Ex parte Spencer, 228 U.S. 652 (1913); Brown v. Allen, 344 U.S. 443 (1953); Fay v. Noia, supra; Davis v. United States, 411 U.S. 233 (1973); and Francis v. Henderson, 425 U.S. 536 (1976).

In Brown, supra, petitioner Daniels' lawyer had failed to mail the appeal papers to the State Supreme Court on the last day provided by law for filing, and hand delivered them one day after that date. Citing the state rule requiring timely filing, the Supreme Court of North Carolina refused to hear the appeal. This Court, relying in part on its earlier decision in Ex parte Spencer, supra, held that federal habeas was not available to review a constitutional claim which could not have been ...

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