Murray v. Carrier

LOCATION: Superior Court of California, Riverside County

DOCKET NO.: 84-1554
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 477 US 478 (1986)
ARGUED: Jan 21, 1986
DECIDED: Jun 26, 1986

Mr. Andrew L. Frey - on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae in support of the petitioner
Jerry P. Slonaker - on behalf of the petitioner
Sherman L. Cohn - on behalf of the respondent, appointed by this Court

Facts of the case

Clifford Carrier was arrested on charges of rape and abduction in 1977. Before his trial, Carrier's attorney filed a motion asking the court to give him access to the victim's statements about her assailants, their vehicle, and the location of the rape. The court rejected the motion. Carrier was subsequently convicted, and his attorney filed an appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court. The appeal did not mention the trial judge's decision about the victim's statements. That appeal was rejected.

A year later, Carrier filed a new appeal in state court claiming that he had been denied his 14th Amendment right to Due Process by the trial judge's refusal to grant him access to the victim's statements. The court dismissed his case, however, citing Virginia Supreme Court Rule 5:21, which states that claims left out of an initial appeal cannot be raised in later appeals. Because Carrier's attorney had not mentioned the victim's statements in the first appeal, Carrier could not raise them in the second.

Carrier then filed a similar appeal in federal district court, again citing the 14th Amendment Due Process claims. The state argued that the appeal was procedural barred because it dealt with issues not raised during the initial appeal. Carrier countered that the omission of the claim had been his attorney's mistake (rather than a tactical decision), and that it should therefore not be held against him. The federal district court rejected the argument, dismissing the case. A divided Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals panel reversed the decision, finding that the omission had been the attorney's mistake and therefore represented a failure of the attorney to provide effective counsel in that particular part of the case (though the representation as a whole was not unconstitutionally poor). The panel stated that because the omission resulted from ineffective counsel, it should not be held against Carrier.


Should a claim that would otherwise be prohibited by state court procedural rules barring claims not raised in an initial appeal be permitted if a defendant can prove that the omission was due entirely to an attorney's mistake (rather than to a tactical decision)?

Media for Murray v. Carrier

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 21, 1986 in Murray v. Carrier

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Murray against Carrier.

Mr. Slonaker, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Jerry P. Slonaker:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, this case presents two questions the resolution of which will have a profound effect on habeas corpus litigation.

The first question is whether attorney error resulting or flowing from inadvertence or ignorance but not rising to the level of ineffective assistance of counsel constitutes cause under Sykes to excuse a procedural defect.

The second question is whether habeas corpus relief can be obtained from the federal courts by asserting attorney error was caused when that very same form of cause is recognized in the form of ineffective assistance of counsel by a state court, and the petitioner has never presented any suggestion of ineffectiveness to the state court to determine whether that court may excuse the default and address the merits.

I realize the Court is familiar with the facts, but there are a few facts I want to mention and emphasize.

Prior to Carrier's trial, 1977, for the offense of rape and abduction, and again during the trial, his defense attorney moved for discovery of the victim's statement made to the police.

The prosecutor took the position that the statement is not favorable to you, so you are not entitled to receive it, but I am entirely willing to have the state trial judge consider it in camera.

Judge Lamb was then assigned to hear the case, and he considered it in camera.

At the request of the defense attorney he compared that statement with the preliminary hearing testimony of the victim, looking specifically for inconsistencies.

But there was a second trial judge who considered the statement.

Judge Lamb was replaced by Judge Owen.

When the discovery request was renewed at trial, Judge Owen reviewed it in camera, and before he ruled on the discovery request, he listened to the direct examination testimony of the victim.

After hearing that, he denied the request, finding the evidence was not favorable or exculpatory to the defendant.

The next factual point I want to mention, he defaulted on appeal in the sense that he did not raise a discovery claim on direct appeal although he had assigned it among many other errors in his notice of appeal filed in trial court, but he did not pursue that on appeal.

About one year after the direct appeal review was completed... when I say one year later, I am including the denial of certiorari by this Court... Carrier filed a pro se habeas corpus petition in the state court, but he waited almost one full year.

He alleged his discovery claim.

The commonwealth moved to dismiss that petition, saying that habeas corpus is not substitute for direct appeal.

You could have asserted your claim on direct appeal and did not, but we didn't leave it there.

We said you are foreclosed from having it considered on habeas corpus under Virginia law in the absence of additional allegations explaining the default.

Carrier proffered none.

After the state habeas proceedings were completed, including the appellate review of the dismissal of his petition for the reasons stated in the commonwealth's motion to dismiss--

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Excuse me.

Jerry P. Slonaker:


William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Did you tell us that he had asserted it among a number of other grounds of appeal initially, but he did not press it by brief.

Is that it?

Jerry P. Slonaker:

That is correct.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Is that under Virginia law?

What is the consequence of that under Virginia law?

Jerry P. Slonaker:

At that time it was required that your issues be assigned in the notice of appeal.