Justia Summary

The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed each prisoner's conviction and death sentence on direct review; each was denied state postconviction relief. Rejecting their petitions for federal habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254, the district court found their ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claims procedurally defaulted as not properly presented in state court. Each unsuccessfully argued that ineffective assistance of postconviction counsel constituted "cause" to excuse the procedural default. The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded.

The Supreme Court reversed. Under section 2254(e)(2), a federal habeas court may not conduct an evidentiary hearing or otherwise consider evidence beyond the state-court record based on the ineffective assistance of state postconviction counsel. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, section 2254(b)(1)(A), requires state prisoners to “exhaus[t] the remedies available in the courts of the State” before seeking federal habeas relief. The doctrine of procedural default, a “corollary” to the exhaustion requirement, generally prevents federal courts from hearing any federal claim that was not presented to the state courts “consistent with [the State’s] own procedural rules.” Together, exhaustion and procedural default protect against “the significant harm to the States that results from the failure of federal courts to respect” state procedural rules,

Federal courts may excuse procedural default only if a prisoner “can demonstrate cause for the default and actual prejudice.” Attorney error cannot provide cause to excuse a default in proceedings for which the Constitution does not guarantee the assistance of counsel except where the state requires prisoners to raise such claims for the first time during state collateral proceedings. Under section 2254(e)(2), when a prisoner is “at fault” for the undeveloped record in state court, a federal court may hold “an evidentiary hearing on the claim” in only two limited scenarios not relevant here and also must show that further fact-finding would demonstrate, by clear and convincing evidence, that he is innocent. State postconviction counsel’s ineffective assistance in developing the state-court record is attributed to the prisoner because there is no constitutional right to counsel in state postconviction proceedings. When a federal habeas court convenes an evidentiary hearing for any purpose or otherwise reviews any evidence for any purpose, it may not consider that evidence on the merits of a negligent prisoner’s defaulted claim unless the exceptions in section 2254(e)(2) are satisfied.