Lee v. Kemna, 534 U.S. 362, 5 (2002)

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Opinion of the Court

the defendant" and that, for personal reasons, he would "not be able to be [in court the next day] to try the case." Furthermore, he had "another case set for trial" the next weekday. App. 22. The trial resumed without pause, no alibi witnesses testified, and the jury found Lee guilty as charged.

Neither the trial judge nor the prosecutor identified any procedural flaw in the presentation or content of Lee's motion for a continuance. The Missouri Court of Appeals, however, held the denial of the motion proper because Lee's counsel had failed to comply with Missouri Supreme Court Rules not relied upon or even mentioned in the trial court: Rule 24.09, which requires that continuance motions be in written form, accompanied by an affidavit; and Rule 24.10, which sets out the showings a movant must make to gain a continuance grounded on the absence of witnesses.

We hold that the Missouri Rules, as injected into this case by the state appellate court, did not constitute a state ground adequate to bar federal habeas review. Caught in the midst of a murder trial and unalerted to any procedural defect in his presentation, defense counsel could hardly be expected to divert his attention from the proceedings rapidly unfolding in the courtroom and train, instead, on preparation of a written motion and affidavit. Furthermore, the trial court, at the time Lee moved for a continuance, had in clear view the information needed to rule intelligently on the merits of the motion. Beyond doubt, Rule 24.10 serves the State's important interest in regulating motions for a continuance— motions readily susceptible to use as a delaying tactic. But under the circumstances of this case, we hold that petitioner Lee, having substantially, if imperfectly, made the basic showings Rule 24.10 prescribes, qualifies for adjudication of his federal, due process claim. His asserted right to defend should not depend on a formal "ritual . . . [that] would further no perceivable state interest." Osborne v. Ohio, 495 U. S.

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