Edwards v. Carpenter, 529 U.S. 446, 10 (2000)

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Cite as: 529 U. S. 446 (2000)

Breyer, J., concurring in judgment

See Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U. S. 72, 81-88 (1977). One "state ground" often asserted as an adequate, independent basis for holding a state prisoner in custody is a state-law "procedural default," such as the prisoner's failure to raise his federal claim at the proper time. However, under certain conditions the State's assertion of such a ground is not "adequate" (and consequently does not bar assertion of the federal-law claim). There are three situations in which an otherwise valid state ground will not bar federal claims: (1) where failure to consider a prisoner's claims will result in a "fundamental miscarriage of justice," Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U. S. 722, 750 (1991); (2) where the state procedural rule was not " 'firmly established and regularly followed,' " Ford v. Georgia, 498 U. S. 411, 423-424 (1991); James v. Kentucky, 466 U. S. 341, 348-349 (1984); and (3) where the prisoner had good "cause" for not following the state procedural rule and was "prejudice[d]" by not having done so, Sykes, supra, at 87.

Ordinarily, a federal habeas judge, while looking to state law to determine the potential existence of a procedural ground that might bar consideration of the prisoner's federal claim, decides whether such a ground is adequate as a matter of federal law. See Ford, supra; James, supra; Coleman, supra. Thus the Court has applied federal standards to determine whether there has been a "fundamental miscarriage of justice." See, e. g., Schlup v. Delo, 513 U. S. 298, 314-317 (1995). And the Court has also looked to state practice to determine the factual circumstances surrounding the application of a state procedural rule, while determining as a matter of federal law whether that rule is "firmly established [and] regularly followed." Ford, supra, at 424- 425. Federal habeas courts would normally determine whether "cause and prejudice" excuse a "procedural default" in the same manner. Murray v. Carrier, 477 U. S. 478, 489 (1986) ("[T]he question of cause" is "a question of federal law").


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