Sumner v. Mata

LOCATION:New York State Thruway

DOCKET NO.: 79-1601
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 449 US 539 (1981)
ARGUED: Dec 09, 1980
DECIDED: Jan 21, 1981

Ezra Hendon – on behalf of the Respondent
Thomas A. Brady – on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Sumner v. Mata

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – December 09, 1980 in Sumner v. Mata

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 21, 1981 in Sumner v. Mata

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in Sumner against Mata will be announced by Justice Rehnquist.

William H. Rehnquist:

This case comes to us on certiorari from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California.

In 1973, the respondent, Robert Mata was convicted in a California State Court of a first degree murder of one of his fellow inmates of the California Correctional Institution.

At his trial, eyewitnesses identified him as participating in the murder.

The California Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction which the jury returned rejecting his contention that a pretrial photographic identification used by the police had violated his rights to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Mata didn’t appeal his conviction to the California Supreme Court but later raised the issue in stayed habeas proceedings.

The California state courts all denied relief.

On December 9, 1977, six years after the original conviction, Mata filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 2254 which is a part of the United States’ statutes.

In the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, he again raised the pretrial identification issue.

The District Court in San Francisco denied his petition, but the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed.

The Court of Appeals made factual findings at odds with those earlier made by the California Court of Appeals when it affirmed Mata’s conviction and based on these findings concluded that the photographic identification was so impermissibly subjects — suggest as to give rise to a very substantial likelihood of misidentification.

We granted certiorari because of our concern that the friction necessarily generated by federal habeas review of state convictions be minimized in a manner consistent with the congressional mandate authorizes a federal review of state conviction.

This case came to the Court of Appeals pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2254 which provides in subsection (d) of it that in federal habeas proceedings instituted by a state prisoner, factual determinations made by a state court after hearing on the merits and evidenced by a written opinion are presumed to be correct unless one of seven specific convictions is found to exist or unless the Court determines that the state court’s factual determinations are, to quote Congress, “Not fairly supported by the record.”

If none of these conditions exist, the burden rests upon the habeas application, that is the defendant who was convicted in the state proceedings to establish by convincing evidence of factual determinations made by the state court were erroneous.

When Congress provided 2254 (d) as it did but a habeas court could not accept in these limited and specific circumstances dispense with the presumption of correctness embodied in a state court’s factual determinations, it contemplated at least some recent written reference to section to — to that section in the state court findings.

Here, we find it impossible to tell whether the Court of Appeals relied on 2254 (d) when rejecting the state court’s factual determinations because the Court’s opinion gives no indication and Section 2254 (d) was even considered.

We now hold that a habeas court should include in an opinion granting the writ, the reasoning which lead it to reject the presumption of correctness accorded to a state court’s factual determinations under Section 2254 (d).

Such a statement setting forth the findings of the Court of Appeals under 2254 (d) will have the obvious value of an — enabling a reviewing court to satisfy itself that the — a federal habeas court has complied with the congressional mandate embodied in Section 2254.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is therefore vacated and the cause is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Mr. Justice Blackman concurs in the result and would vacate the judgment and remand to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration in light of Section 2254 (d).

Mr Justice Brennan with whom Mr. Justice Marshall and Mr. Justice Stevens joined, have filed an opinion dissenting from the opinion of the Court.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Rehnquist.