Edwards v. Carpenter

LOCATION:US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

DOCKET NO.: 98-2060
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 529 US 446 (2000)
ARGUED: Feb 28, 2000
DECIDED: Apr 25, 2000

Edward B. Foley – Columbus, Ohio, argued the cause for the petitioner
J. Joseph Bodine, Jr. – Columbus, Ohio, argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

Robert Carpenter was indicted on charges of aggravated murder and aggravated robbery, pleaded guilty, and sentenced to life imprisonment, with parole possible after 30 years. On direct appeal, Carpenter unsuccessfully challenged only the length of the minimum sentence. After unsuccessfully pursuing state post-conviction relief and represented by new counsel, Carpenter petitioned the Ohio Court of Appeals to reopen his direct appeal on the ground that his original appellate counsel had been constitutionally ineffective in failing to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction and sentence. The court dismissed the application as untimely, and the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed. Carpenter then filed a federal habeas corpus petition, raising the sufficiency-of-the-evidence claim, and alleging that his appellate counsel was constitutionally ineffective in not raising that claim on direct appeal. The District Court determined that, while the sufficiency claim had been procedurally defaulted, the ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim could excuse that default; concluded that Carpenter’s appellate counsel was constitutionally ineffective; and granted the writ. The Court of Appeals concluded that the ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim could serve as cause to excuse the procedural default of the sufficiency claim, regardless of whether the ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim had been procedurally defaulted; and found prejudice from counsel’s failure to raise the sufficiency-of-the-evidence claim on direct appeal.


May a state prisoner’s procedurally defaulted claim of ineffective assistance of counsel excuse the procedural default of another habeas corpus claim?

Media for Edwards v. Carpenter

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – February 28, 2000 in Edwards v. Carpenter

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – April 25, 2000 in Edwards v. Carpenter

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 98-2060, Edwards against Carpenter, will be announced by Justice Scalia.

Antonin Scalia:

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The respondent who had been convicted by the Ohio Courts of aggravated murder and aggravated robbery filed a federal habeas corpus petition contending that there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction.

He had failed to raise this contention on the direct appeal of his conviction to the Ohio Court Of Appeals, which would by the federal habeas action unless there were some cause for that default.

He claimed his cause that he had had a constitutionally ineffective counsel.

The problem is that this claim also had been defaulted in the State Courts.

Respondent had raised it in an application to reopen his direct appeal, but the application had been filed too late under the State’s procedural rules.

The Sixth Circuit held in this case that that did not matter, that so long as he had presented his ineffective assistance claim to the State Courts, it was of no relevance whether he had presented it in compliance with the State Court procedures.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk of Court today, we reverse the Sixth Circuit.

It is the general rule, when a federal habeas prisoner asserts a claim that was procedurally defaulted in State Court, the Federal Court will not entertain the claim unless the prisoner can demonstrate cause meaning a good reason for his State Court default.

In a case called Murray versus Carrier we held that counsel’s ineffectiveness in failing properly to present a claim can constitute cause excusing the procedural default, when that ineffectiveness rises to the level of the constitutional violation of failure to provide effective assistance of counsel.

But, we also held that principles of comity and federalism require the prisoner to have exhausted his claim of ineffective-assistance of counsel before the Federal Court would consider it as cause.

That is we held in Carrier that the prisoner must have presented his ineffective assistance claim to the State Courts.

The question raised by the present case is whether this exhaustion requirement of ineffective-assistance asserted as cause is uniquely immune from the procedural-default rule that accompanies the exhaustion requirement in all other contexts.

Whether, in other words, it suffices that the ineffective-assistance claim was presented to the State Courts, even though it was not presented in the manner that State law requires.

That is not a hard question.

An affirmative action would render the exhaustion requirement illusory.

As we recognized just last term in a case called O’Sullivan versus Boerckel, the procedural default doctrine is necessary to protect the integrity of the federal exhaustion rule.

The purposes of the exhaustion requirement would be utterly defeated if the prisoner were able to obtain federal habeas review simply by letting the time run so that state remedies were no longer available when he asked for them.

Those purposes would be no less frustrated were we to allow federal review to a prisoner who had presented his claim to the State Court, but in such a manner that the State Court could not, consistent with its own procedural rules, have entertained it.

In such circumstances it could hardly be said as comity and federalism require that the state had been given a fair opportunity to pass upon the prisoner’s claims.

Justice Breyer has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in which Justice Stevens has joined.