Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298 (1995)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eighth circuit

No. 93-7901. Argued October 3, 1994—Decided January 23, 1995

Petitioner Schlup, a Missouri prisoner, was convicted of participating in the murder of a fellow inmate and sentenced to death. In this, his second federal habeas petition, he alleged that constitutional error at his trial deprived the jury of critical evidence that would have established his innocence. The District Court declined to reach the petition's merits, holding that Schlup could not satisfy the threshold showing of "actual innocence" required by Sawyer v. Whitley, 505 U. S. 333, 336, under which a petitioner must demonstrate "by clear and convincing evidence that, but for a constitutional error, no reasonable juror would have found" him guilty.

Held: The standard of Murray v. Carrier, 477 U. S. 478—which requires a habeas petitioner to show that "a constitutional violation has probably resulted in the conviction of one who is actually innocent," id., at 496— rather than the more stringent Sawyer standard, governs the miscarriage of justice inquiry when a petitioner who has been sentenced to death raises a claim of actual innocence to avoid a procedural bar to the consideration of the merits of his constitutional claims. Pp. 313-332. (a) In contrast to the actual innocence claim asserted in Herrera v. Collins, 506 U. S. 390—that the execution of an innocent person convicted in an error-free trial violates the Eighth Amendment—Schlup's claim is accompanied by an assertion of constitutional error at trial: the ineffectiveness of his counsel and the withholding of evidence by the prosecution. As such, his conviction may not be entitled to the same degree of respect as one that is the product of an error-free trial, and his evidence of innocence need carry less of a burden. In Herrera, the evidence of innocence would have had to be strong enough to make the execution "constitutionally intolerable" even if the conviction was the product of a fair trial, while here the evidence must establish sufficient doubt about Schlup's guilt to justify the conclusion that his execution would be a miscarriage of justice unless his conviction was the product of a fair trial. Pp. 313-317. (b) The societal interests in finality, comity, and conservation of scarce judicial resources dictate that a habeas court may not ordinarily reach the merits of successive or abusive claims, absent a showing of cause

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