Baldwin v. Reese

PETITIONER: George H. Baldwin
RESPONDENT: Michael Reese
LOCATION: Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

DOCKET NO.: 02-964
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 541 US 27 (2004)
GRANTED: May 27, 2003
ARGUED: Dec 08, 2003
DECIDED: Mar 02, 2004

Dennis Balske - argued the cause for Respondent
Hardy Myers - argued the cause for Petitioner

Facts of the case

A state trial court sentenced Reese to 33 years in prison. An appellate court lowered the sentence to 24 years. In another appeal to a state appellate court, Reese argued his federal Sixth Amendment right to effective counsel was violated at trial and on appeal. The appellate court refused to reverse Reese's sentence. Reese appealed to the state supreme court and failed.

Reese appealed to a U.S. District Court. Ruling against Reese, the Court held that Reese did clearly say to the state supreme court his claims were federal. Federal law requires state prisoners to "fairly present" federal constitutional claims in each state court before appealing to federal courts. A federal appellate court reversed, ruling that the state supreme court had had the opportunity to read the state appellate court decision - had the court done this, it would have understood Reese's claims were federal.


Federal law requires state prisoners to "fairly present" their allegations of federal constitutional violations to state courts before turning to federal courts. To meet this requirement, do prisoners need to specifically say their claims are federal constitutional claims?

Media for Baldwin v. Reese

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 08, 2003 in Baldwin v. Reese

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 02, 2004 in Baldwin v. Reese

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 02-964, Baldwin against Reese will be announced by Justice Breyer.

Stephen G. Breyer:

It is a given proposition of law that a state prisoner who wants a writ of federal habeas corpus first has to exhaust his remedies in the State Court.

It is also given that in doing so, he has to “fairly present” his federal claims, as law claims it federal law, in each relevant State Court and that includes the State Supreme Court if he tries to go to the State Supreme Court.

Now, this case involves a state prisoner, Michael Reese, who filed a petition for review in the state’s system that of his convictions, review of his conviction, including the State Supreme Court, and then later on, he wanted federal habeas corpus.

The Federal District Court held that his State Supreme Court petition did not fairly present one of his federal claims, a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.

The Ninth Circuit reversed.

Now, when it did so, it determined that State Supreme Court petition was not proper.

It did not properly made clear to that State Supreme Court what the prisoner’s ineffective assistance of counsel was.

It did not make clear that it was a federal claim.

But the Ninth Circuit said well, that does not really matter.

It said that the Justices of the Oregon Supreme Court could have looked at papers filed in the lower Oregon courts, and also decisions of the lower Oregon courts, and if they had done so, they would have realized that the prisoner’s claim was a federal claim, a claim of federal law.

We now reverse the Ninth Circuit.

We think that State Supreme Court Justices like other judges have full dockets.

They may read the papers or decisions filed in the lower court but they may not.

It all depends on the case.

The Ninth Circuit's approach would basically say they always have to read those lower court papers, it would change ordinary state judicial practice, it would impose a serious burden upon state appellate judges, and it would do very little to advance the fairness of federal habeas proceedings.

That is because it really is not difficult for a litigant who wishes to raise a federal claim in a State Court to make clear to the State Court that his claim in his brief or the other documents he filed is a federal claim.

We consequently hold the ordinarily, a state prisoner in order to fairly present a federal claim to a State Court has to do so in his brief filed in that court.

Now, Reese then argues in the alternative that anyway his petition that he did file in the Oregon Supreme Court did fairly present his federal ineffective assistance claim right there in the petition, because at least it made clear it was some kind of ineffective assistance claim, let us say a state claim, and state law and federal law are the same in respect to ineffective assistance.

But Reese did not raise this argument in the Court of Appeals, nor in his opposition here.

In fact, it made its appearance for the first time in its brief on the merits and under our rules, we can consider such tardily raised arguments to have been waived and we do consider it waived here.

For these reasons, the decision of the Ninth Circuit is reversed.

Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion.