Lee v. Kemna, 534 U.S. 362, 10 (2002)

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Cite as: 534 U. S. 362 (2002)

Opinion of the Court

After deliberating for three hours, the jury convicted Lee on both counts. He was subsequently sentenced to prison for life without possibility of parole. Id., at 43.

The trial court later denied Lee's new trial motion, which Lee grounded, in part, on the denial of the continuance motion. Id., at 31-32, 42. Lee, at first pro se but later represented by appointed counsel, next filed a motion for state postconviction relief. Lee argued, inter alia, that the refusal to grant his request for an overnight continuance deprived him of his federal constitutional right to a defense. Id., at 56-59.3 In his postconviction motion, Lee asserted that the three witnesses had left the courthouse because "an unknown person," whom he later identified as an employee of the prosecutor's office, had told them "they were not needed to testify." Id., at 56-58. The postconviction court denied the motion, stating that under Missouri law, an allegedly improper denial of a continuance fits within the category "trial error," a matter to be raised on direct appeal, not in a collateral challenge to a conviction. Id., at 70.

Lee's direct appeal and his appeal from the denial of post-conviction relief were consolidated before the Missouri Court of Appeals. See Mo. Sup. Ct. Rule 29.15(l) (1994). There, Lee again urged that the trial court's refusal to continue the case overnight denied him due process and the right to put on a defense. App. 90-95. In response, the State argued for the first time that Lee's continuance request had a fatal procedural flaw. Id., at 110-115. In particular, the State contended that Lee's application failed to comply with Missouri Supreme Court Rule 24.10 (Rule 24.10), which lists the showings required in a continuance request based on

3 Missouri procedure at the time required Lee to file his postconviction motion in the sentencing court shortly after he filed his notice of direct appeal. See Mo. Sup. Ct. Rule 29.15(b) (1994) (requiring motion to be made within 30 days of filing of court transcript in appellate court considering direct appeal). The direct appeal was "suspended" while the trial court considered the postconviction motion. See Rule 29.15(l).


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