Coleman v. Thompson

LOCATION: Clark County Jail

DOCKET NO.: 89-7662
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1990-1991)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 501 US 722 (1991)
ARGUED: Feb 25, 1991
DECIDED: Jun 24, 1991

Donald R. Curry - on behalf of the Respondent
John Wesley Hall, Jr. -

Facts of the case


Media for Coleman v. Thompson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 25, 1991 in Coleman v. Thompson

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 24, 1991 in Coleman v. Thompson

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 89-7662 Coleman against Thompson will be announced by Justice O'Connor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

This case comes here on certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

In an opinion filed with the clerk today, we resolve several issues concerning the relationship between state procedural default and federal habeas corpus review.

A Buchanan County, Virginia jury convicted the petitioner, Roger Keith Coleman, of capital murder.

He was sentence to death and the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed both the conviction and the sentence.

Coleman then filed a petition for state collateral review raising numerous federal constitutional claims.

The State Court ruled against Coleman on all the claims.

Coleman filed a notice of appeal from that judgment, but after the deadline provided by the state for filing the notice of appeal.

The Commonwealth of Virginia filed a motion to dismiss the appeal urging as the sole grounds of dismissal that the notice of appeal had been filed late.

The Virginia Supreme Court subsequently granted the commonwealth's motion to dismiss and it dismissed the appeal without explaining the reasons for doing so.

Coleman has filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Federal District Court.

The question in this case is whether the Virginia Supreme Court's dismissal of Coleman's notice of appeal was a procedural default, that bars him from presenting in federal habeas claims presented for the first time in state collateral review.

In the opinion filed today, we hold that it was for some of the same reasons, as explained by Justice Scalia this morning in his announcement in the Yiltz case.

We also hold today that in all cases in which a state prisoner has defaulted a federal claim in State Court pursuant to an independent and adequate state procedural rule, a federal Habeas Court can hear the claim only if the prisoner can demonstrate cause for the default and actual prejudice as a result of the alleged violation of federal law or if the prisoner can demonstrate that failure to consider the claim will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice.

Because Coleman's claims were procedurally defaulted in State Court, he must meet this cause and prejudice standard before the District Court can address its claims.

We hold that Coleman has not demonstrated cause.

He contends that it was attorney error that led to the late filling of its notice of appeal and to his procedural fault in State Court.

Cause, as that term is used in our habeas cases, is something external to the petitioner.

Attorney error will constitute cause only if it rises to the level of an independent violation of the petitioner's right to effective assistance of council.

Only then may we hold that state responsible for the error as a factor external to the petitioner.

In the absence of a constitutional violation then, the petitioner must bear the risk in federal habeas for attorney errors made in the course of representation.

The alleged attorney error in this case occurred on appeal from a Trial Court determination in state collateral review.

Our cases, established clearly that there is no right to council in such an appeal and consequently, no possibility for a violation of the right to effective assistance of council.

Attorney error, therefore, cannot constitute cause to excuse Coleman's default in this form.

As Coleman does not argue here that federal review of his claims is necessary to prevent a fundamental miscarriage of justice, he is bared from bringing these claims in federal habeas.

Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.

Justice White has filed an opinion concurring and concurring in the judgment.

Justice Blackmun has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Marshall and Stevens have joined.