Edwards v. Carpenter, 529 U.S. 446, 9 (2000)

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454

EDWARDS v. CARPENTER

Breyer, J., concurring in judgment

whether respondent's appellate counsel was constitutionally ineffective in not raising the sufficiency-of-the-evidence claim in the first place.

* * *

For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

Justice Breyer, with whom Justice Stevens joins, concurring in the judgment.

I believe the Court of Appeals correctly decided the basic question: "Whether a federal habeas court is barred from considering an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim as 'cause' for the procedural default of another claim when the ineffective-assistance claim is itself procedurally defaulted." The question's phrasing itself reveals my basic concern. Although the question, like the majority's opinion, is written with clarity, few lawyers, let alone unrep-resented state prisoners, will readily understand it. The reason lies in the complexity of this Court's habeas corpus jurisprudence—a complexity that in practice can deny the fundamental constitutional protection that habeas corpus seeks to assure. Today's decision unnecessarily adds to that complexity and cannot be reconciled with our consistent recognition that the determination of "cause" is a matter for the federal habeas judge.

To explain why this is so, and at the risk of oversimplification, I must reiterate certain elementary ground rules. A federal judge may issue a writ of habeas corpus freeing a state prisoner, if the prisoner is "in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U. S. C. 2254(a). However, the judge may not issue the writ if an adequate and independent state-law ground justifies the prisoner's detention, regardless of the federal claim.

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