Stone v. Powell Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Lloyd Powell (“Mr. Powell”) was convicted of murder by a California court. Mr. Powell claimed that the search uncovering the murder weapon was unlawful, and such evidence should have been inadmissible at trial.

Facts of the case

Lloyd Powell was convicted of murder by a California court. Powell sought relief in federal district court by filing a writ of federal habeas corpus. Powell claimed that the search that uncovered the murder weapon was unlawful and that the evidence should have been inadmissible at trial. This case was decided together with Wolf v. Rice.

Question

Whether federal courts are obligated to consider claims of illegal searches and seizures after such claims have been decided by state courts?

Answer

Where the State has provided the opportunity for full and fair litigation of a Fourth Amendment constitutional claim, a state prisoner may not be granted federal habeas corpus relief on the ground that evidence obtained through an unconstitutional search and seizure was introduced at his trial.

Conclusion

On certiorari, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the constitutional protections accorded criminal defendants under the exclusionary rule of the Fourth Amendment were not absolute but had to be weighed against competing policies. The Court noted that the contribution of the exclusionary rule to the effectuation of the Fourth Amendment was minimal, while the substantial societal costs of application of the rule persisted with special force. Accordingly, the Court reversed and held that where the State had provided an opportunity for full and fair litigation of a claim under the Fourth Amendment, state prisoners should not have been granted federal habeas corpus relief on the ground that evidence obtained in an unconstitutional search and seizure was introduced at trial.

  • Case Brief: 1976
  • Petitioner: Stone
  • Respondent: Powell
  • Decided by: Burger Court

Citation: 428 US 465 (1976)
Argued: Feb 24, 1976
Decided: Jul 6, 1976