Dretke v. Haley

PETITIONER: Doug Dretke, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division
RESPONDENT: Michael Wayne Haley
LOCATION: Pennsylvania General Assembly

DOCKET NO.: 02-1824
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 541 US 386 (2004)
GRANTED: Oct 14, 2003
ARGUED: Mar 02, 2004
DECIDED: May 03, 2004

Eric M. Albritton - argued the cause for Respondent
Matthew D. Roberts - argued the cause for Petitioner, on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae
R. Ted Cruz - argued the cause for Petitioner

Facts of the case

Haley was convicted in Texas state courts of a felony theft and sentenced as a habitual felony offender (extending his sentence). After a failed appeal to the Texas appellate court, Haley filed a state habeas application in the trial court, arguing that his past crimes did not qualify him as a habitual offender and that his attorney had provided ineffective counsel when he failed to object to the extended sentence. The court dismissed his claims on procedural grounds, because he had not raised the issue during his trial and therefore could not raise it in the habeas petition. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied his habeas application based on the trial court's findings.

Haley then filed for habeas corpus relief in federal district court. Pointing to the procedural-default doctrine, Texas argued that Haley's claim was procedurally barred from federal habeas review. Under the procedural-default doctrine, federal courts cannot grant habeas relief if the last state court rejected the appeal for procedural violations of state law; the only exception is if the petitioner is actually innocent.

The district court held that Haley showed he was "actually innocent" of earlier violations on which his sentence enhancement was based. The court ruled that Haley's sentence was therefore improperly extended. It never reached his ineffective assistance of counsel claim, having already found grounds for overturning the extended sentence. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting Texas's argument that the actual-innocence exception applies only to cases involving capital offenses.


Does the actual-innocence exception to the procedural-default doctrine apply to both capital and non-capital cases?

Media for Dretke v. Haley

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 02, 2004 in Dretke v. Haley

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 03, 2004 in Dretke v. Haley

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 02-1824, Dretke against Haley will be announced by Justice O’Connor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

This habeas corpus case comes to us on certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

That Court held that the respondent, Michael Wayne Haley, was not barred from asserting his procedurally defaulted challenge to the State Courts in position of a recidivous sentencing enhancement, because he was actually innocent of defactual predicate giving rise to the enhancement.

We vacate that judgment and remand for further proceedings.

The respondent’s sentence for theft was enhanced under Texas’ habitual offender statute based on two prior felony convictions.

As it turns out, the evidence concerning the timing of one of his prior convictions was insufficient to support the particular enhancement.

Respondent did not object to that insufficiency until state postconviction proceedings.

The State Court dismissed the objection on procedural grounds and denied the accompany ineffective of assistance of counsel claim.

Although the insufficiency claim was procedurally defaulted then when the respondent filed for a federal habeas corpus, the District Court heard it nonetheless on the grounds that respondent was actually innocent of one of the factual predicates giving rise to the sentence enhancement.

The District Court granted relief on the insufficiency claim.

It did not reach the ineffective assistance of counsel question and the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed.

Normally, claims of error in a criminal trial which are not timely made in State Court cannot later be made by the defendant in a federal habeas proceeding.

We have recognized a narrow exception to the procedural default rule where a habeas applicant can demonstrate actual innocence of the substantive offense or in the capital sentencing context of the aggravating circumstances rendering him eligible for the death penalty.

We do not decide today whether this exception extends to the noncapital sentencing context and instead hold that a Federal Court on habeas faced with allegations of actual innocence must first address all nondefaulted claims for comparable relief on other grounds as for cause to excuse the procedural default, and this avoidance principle was implicit in our earlier actual innocence cases.

Now here, the respondent has, as the state conceives, a significant ineffective assistance of counsel claim that the District Court should have considered before reaching the actual innocence question.

Doing so would have avoided the difficult constitutional and other legal questions implicated by extending the actual innocence exception into the noncapital sentencing context.

The State has told us that it will not seek to reincarcerate the respondent during the pendancy of this ineffective assistance claim.

Justice Stevens has written a dissenting opinion in which Justices Souter and Kennedy joined; Justice Kennedy has also written a dissenting opinion.