Kuhlmann v. Wilson

LOCATION: Dow Chemical

DOCKET NO.: 84-1479
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 477 US 436 (1986)
ARGUED: Jan 14, 1986
DECIDED: Jun 26, 1986

Philip S. Weber - on behalf of Respondent
Steven P. Kartagener - on behalf of Petitioner
Steven R. Kartagener - on behalf of petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Kuhlmann v. Wilson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 14, 1986 in Kuhlmann v. Wilson

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in LeFevre against Wilson.

Mr. Kartagener, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Steven R. Kartagener:

Thank you.

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

As this Court is well aware, perhaps nothing tears more at the fabric of federal-state relations in the criminal law area that federal habeas corpus review of state criminal convictions, and it is a case such as the present one that helps make clear why that's so.

More that 15 years ago, on July 4th, 1970, Respondent Wilson and two unapprehended accomplices murdered a fellow by the name of Sam Reiner during the course of a robbery of a taxi garage in the Bronx.

The accuracy, the reliability, the validity of that state jury verdict convicting him of that crime has never really been open to question, because there's no question that we're dealing with a guilty man.

Innocence is not part of this case before the Court.

Since 1972 when the case did proceed to the state court trial, the defendant has been litigating a Sixth Amendment claim that has had nothing to do with the accuracy or integrity of the truth-finding process at his state court trial.

The issue related to the manner in which manifestly reliable and voluntary admissions were obtained from him from a jailhouse informant, one Benny Lee.

And I say he's been litigating it since 1972, and litigate it he certainly has been doing.

He had the opportunity to litigate this issue in the state court at a pretrial hearing.

He litigated it at trial in 1972.

He litigated his Sixth Amendment issue without success in the state appellate courts.

When that was unavailing, he moved into the federal courts, pursuing federal habeas corpus review.

He had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue before a district court, which found that the statements were not obtained improperly.

Proceeding on to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, they too found that there was no impropriety in the manner in which the statements were obtained.

Then this Court decided United States v. Henry in 1980 and the Petitioner, or I should say the Respondent before this Court, Wilson, started all over again.

He went back into federal court, commencing a new habeas corpus action, claiming then, which is contrary to the argument he makes now, that Henry established a new rule of law entitled to retroactive application in habeas corpus.

He lost in the district court because the district court found, as we argued, that Henry really didn't change the law.

It found that he'd really had an ample bite at the apple the first time around, and it also gave appropriate recognition and paid due deference to some very important factual findings that emanated from not only the state court, but from the federal courts during the first habeas corpus application, and that important factual finding is that the statements, the incriminating statements that he made to the jailhouse informant, were spontaneous, were completely unsolicited.

He did then, in about 1982 or 1984, move on to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, a second panel of that court, which for the first time found a constitutional error, where no other court found it to exist, and I point out, it was not a unanimous court, it was a split panel of that court that said: Yes, the Sixth Amendment was violated.

And so in 1974 the people of New York State were told, you're back to square one.

William H. Rehnquist:

You mean 1984?

Steven R. Kartagener:

Excuse me.

I'm sorry, Your Honor.

1984, 14 years after the murder, you're back to square one.

All that went before you is of no moment, because we are also going to disregard the factual findings of spontaneity that were made by all the courts that went before us.

All that went before is of no moment.

You retry this man, 14 years after the crime, or let him free.