Ylst v. Nunnemaker

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Ylst v. Nunnemaker by Antonin Scalia
Court Documents
Concurring Opinion
Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

501 U.S. 797

Ylst  v.  Nunnemaker

No. 90-68  Argued: March 19, 1991. --- Decided: June 24, 1991


Following his California murder conviction, respondent raised a Miranda claim for the first time on direct appeal, in violation of a state procedural rule. In affirming the conviction, the State Court of Appeal rejected the claim on the sole basis of the procedural bar. After successive petitions for collateral relief were denied without opinion by the State Superior Court and Court of Appeal, respondent filed a habeas petition in the State Supreme Court, which denied relief without opinion or explanation, citing its decisions in In re Swain and In re Waltreus. When the State Supreme Court denied, without opinion or citation, a second habeas petition to it, respondent filed a habeas petition raising the Miranda claim in Federal District Court. That court found that the state procedural default barred federal review, but the Court of Appeals reversed this determination. Relying on this Court's statement in Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 263, 109 S.Ct. 1038, 1043, 103 L.Ed.2d 308 that state procedural default bars federal review only when the state court clearly and expressly states its reliance on that ground, the court held that the State Supreme Court's "silent denial" of respondent's second state habeas petition lifted the procedural bar imposed on direct review.

Held: A state court's unexplained denial of a habeas petition raising federal claims is not sufficient, for purposes of federal review, to lift a procedural bar imposed on direct appeal. Pp. 801-806.

(a) The Court of Appeals erred in applying a presumption that when a state court denies a federal claim without explicit reliance on state grounds, the merits of the federal claim are the basis for the judgment. The Harris presumption in favor of federal review is to be applied only after it has been determined that "the relevant state court decision . . . fairly appear[s] to rest primarily on federal law or [is] interwoven with federal law." Coleman v. Thompson, --- U.S. ----, 111 S.Ct. 2546, --- L.Ed.2d ----. P. 802.

(b) With respect to unexplained state-court judgments, federal habeas courts should apply the following presumption: where there has been one reasoned state judgment rejecting a federal claim, later unexplained orders upholding that judgment or rejecting the same claim rest upon the same ground. If an earlier opinion "fairly appear[s] to rest primarily upon federal law," it should be presumed that no procedural default has been invoked by a subsequent unexplained order that leaves the judgment or its consequences in place. Similarly, where the last reasoned opinion on the claim explicitly imposes a procedural default, it should be presumed that a later decision rejecting the claim did not silently disregard the bar and consider the merits. This "look-through" presumption may be rebutted by strong evidence to the contrary. Pp. 803-804.

(c) The last explained state-court judgment on respondent's Miranda claim was that of the Court of Appeal on direct review, which unequivocally rested upon a state procedural default. None of the later judgments or orders was informative on the reason for denying the Miranda claim, nor has respondent adduced strong evidence that one of them reached the merits of that claim. Thus, federal-court review is barred unless respondent can establish "cause and prejudice" for his default, see Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 493, 495-496, 106 S.Ct. 2639, 2648, 2649-2650, 91 L.Ed.2d 397. On remand, the Court of Appeals must determine whether he has done so. Pp. 805-806.

904 F.2d 473, (CA 9 1990) reversed and remanded.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and STEVENS, JJ., joined.

Clifford K. Thompson, San Francisco, Cal., for petitioner.

Juliana Drous, San Francisco, Cal., for respondent.

Justice SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).