Stone v. Powell

LOCATION:Bonanza Liquor Store

DOCKET NO.: 74-1055
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 428 US 465 (1976)
ARGUED: Feb 24, 1976
DECIDED: Jul 06, 1976

Melvin Kent Kammerlohr – Argued the cause for the petitioner Wolff
Robert R. Granucci – Argued the cause for the petitioner Stone
Robert W. Peterson – By appointment of the Court, argued the cause for the respondent Powell
William C. Cunningham – Argued the cause for the respondent Rice

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.


Were federal courts obligated to consider claims of illegal searches and seizures after such claims had been decided by state courts?

Media for Stone v. Powell

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – February 24, 1976 in Stone v. Powell

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – July 06, 1976 in Stone v. Powell

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion in 74-1055, Stone against Powell and 74-1222 Wolff against Rice, two companion cases and 74-1560, United States against Martinez-Fuerte and 75-5387, Martinez-Fuerte against the United States will each be announced by Mr. Justice Powell.

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.:

As these two cases present the same issue, we deal with them in a single opinion.

Both come from the United States Court’s of Appeals, one from the Sixth and the other from the Ninth Circuit.

Each of the respondents was convicted of murder in trials in California and Nebraska state courts and their convictions were affirmed on appeal.

Thereafter each sought Federal Habeas Corpus relief under 28 U.S.C.A., Section 2254.

They contended that evidence seized during allegedly illegal searches and seizures, the murder weapon in one case and dynamite particles in the defendant’s pocket in the other should have been excluded from the evidence under the exclusionary rule.

The Federal Courts of Appeals agreed and granted writs of Habeas Corpus.

Petitioners are the wardens of the state prisons.

They content that the exclusionary rule in Fourth Amendment cases should not be applied in Federal Habeas Corpus proceedings.

Although this Court in several prior cases has assumed the application of the Rule, we have never heretofore specifically addressed this issue.

The primary justification for the exclusionary rule is the deterrence of unlawful police conduct.

The Rule was created by this Court as a means of effectuating the important rights, guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.

For many years the Rule was not deemed applicable to state courts, but 15 years ago, in Mapp against Ohio, the Court extended the Rule to trials and appeals in state courts.

Decisions subsequent to Mapp have established that the Rule is not a personal constitutional right.

Even a trial, and on direct review the cost of applying the exclusionary Rule is not insubstantial.

The focus of a trial is diverted from the ultimate question of guilt or innocence that should be the central consent of a criminal proceeding.

Moreover the physical evidence sought to be excluded under the Rule often is the most probative information bearing on guilt or innocence of the defendant.

Application of the Rule thus deflects, the truth finding process and often frees the guilty.

These cost of the exclusionary Rule apply with special force when following conviction and appeal in a state court, the issue again is presented on habeas corpus.

We conclude, therefore, that the contribution of the Rule toward restraining police misconduct is minimal when applied on collateral attack often long after trial and appeal, but we make clear the limited scope of our decision.

This case does not deal with a habeas corpus statute as a means for re-litigating constitutional claims generally.

We hold only that a Federal court need not apply the exclusionary rule on Fourth Amendment claims, unless there was a showing that the state prisoner was denied a full and fair hearing on that claim at trial and on direct review.

In short, the application of the Rule on habeas is limited to cases in which there has been both such a showing and a Fourth Amendment violation.

The Chief Justice has filed a concurring opinion.

Mr, Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Marshall has joined.

Mr. Justice White also has filed a dissenting opinion.