Marshall v. Lonberger

LOCATION:Bleckly County Superior Court

DOCKET NO.: 81-420
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 459 US 422 (1983)
ARGUED: Oct 05, 1982
DECIDED: Feb 22, 1983

John Czarnecki – on behalf of the Respondent
Richard David Drake – on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Marshall v. Lonberger

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 05, 1982 in Marshall v. Lonberger

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – February 22, 1983 in Marshall v. Lonberger

Warren E. Burger:

The judgments and opinions in two cases will be announced by Mr. Justice Rehnquist.

William H. Rehnquist:

The first of these is Marshall against Lonberger which comes here on a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

A vast majority of the criminal trials in our country occur in state courts and some limited situations a person convicted of a state crime by a state court may request a federal court issue a writ of habeas corpus.

This writ which orders the release of the person from imprisonment can be obtained only when the prisoner’s right under the United States Constitution had been violated.

The power of federal habeas courts to release a prisoner subject the requirement that a federal habeas court give a high measure of deference to the factual conclusions of the state court.

In this case, an Ohio jury convicted Robert Lonberger of a brutal murder.

Many years after his trial in state court, Lonberger asked the federal court to issue a writ of habeas corpus ordering his release from prison.

His argument rested on the claim that the prosecution introduced evidence at his murder trial relating to a plea of guilty in 1972 to a charge of murder — attempted murder in Illinois.

Lonberger claimed that his conviction for attempted murder based on his guilty plea was invalid because he really intended to plead guilty to the charge of attempted murder.

Although the Ohio state courts have rejected Lonberger’s argument, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit accepted it.

In order to do so, however, it had to reject at least one of the implied factual findings of the Ohio courts.

The Ohio trial court decided that Lonberger was not being completely truthful in claiming that he had not meant to plead guilty to attempted murder in 1972.

The federal court even though it had never observed Lonberger disagreed with the state court and chose to believe his testimony.

Where a factual question such as whether a particular person is telling the truth is involved, federal habeas courts must accept the findings of state courts unless they are not fairly supportable.

Because the Court of Appeals did not observe this rule, we reverse its judgment.

Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Marshall.

Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Brennan, Marshall and Blackmun.

Justice Blackmun has filed a dissenting opinion.