Lee v. Kemna, 534 U.S. 362, 14 (2002)

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

Opinion of the Court

Chief District Judge Bennett, sitting by designation from the District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, dissented. In his view, Rules 24.09 and 24.10 did not supply state-law grounds "adequate" to preclude federal review in the particular circumstances of this case. Id., at 1041-1049.

We granted Lee's pro se petition for a writ of certiorari, 531 U. S. 1189 (2001), and appointed counsel, 532 U. S. 956 (2001). We now vacate the Court of Appeals judgment.


This Court will not take up a question of federal law presented in a case "if the decision of [the state] court rests on a state law ground that is independent of the federal question and adequate to support the judgment." Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U. S. 722, 729 (1991) (emphases added). The rule applies with equal force whether the state-law ground is substantive or procedural. Ibid. We first developed the independent and adequate state ground doctrine in cases on direct review from state courts, and later applied it as well "in deciding whether federal district courts should address the claims of state prisoners in habeas corpus actions." Ibid. "[T]he adequacy of state procedural bars to the assertion of federal questions," we have recognized, is not within the State's prerogative finally to decide; rather, adequacy "is itself a federal question." Douglas v. Alabama, 380 U. S. 415, 422 (1965).

Lee does not suggest that Rules 24.09 and 24.10, as brought to bear on this case by the Missouri Court of Appeals, depended in any way on federal law. Nor does he question the general applicability of the two codified Rules. He does maintain that both Rules—addressed initially to Missouri trial courts, but in his case invoked only at the

"actual innocence" to escape the procedural bar because "the factual basis for the [alibi witness] affidavits he relies on as new evidence existed at the time of the trial and could have been presented earlier." Id., at 1039.


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