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Law School Case Brief

Kuhlmann v. Wilson - 477 U.S. 436, 106 S. Ct. 2616 (1986)


The "ends of justice" require federal courts to entertain successive petitions for federal habeas corpus relief from a state conviction only where the prisoner supplements his constitutional claim with a colorable showing of factual innocence.


An accused, who denied any involvement in an armed robbery in which a person was killed, was nevertheless arraigned and confined in a jail cell together with another prisoner who, unknown to the accused, had agreed to act as a police informant. The accused made incriminating statements that the informant reported. Prior to the accused's trial in a New York state court, he moved to suppress the jail cell statements as obtained in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Finding that the police had instructed the informant to ask no questions but merely to listen to what the accused might say, the informant obeyed these instructions, and the accused's statements were spontaneous and unsolicited, the trial judge denied the motion. The accused was convicted of murder and felonious possession of a weapon and was sentenced in 1972 to 20 years to life on the murder count and a concurrent term of up to 7 years on the weapons count. After the accused's direct appeal was unsuccessful, he filed his first federal habeas corpus petition in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, again arguing that his Sixth Amendment rights had been violated. The petition was denied, however, by the District Court; the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed; and the accused's petition for certiorari was denied by the United States Supreme Court. Then, after the Supreme Court, in United States v Henry (1980) 447 US 264, 65 L Ed 2d 115, 100 S Ct 2183, held inadmissible, as a violation of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, certain statements made to a paid jailhouse informant, and the accused's attempt to vacate his conviction in state proceedings was unsuccessful, he filed a new federal habeas corpus petition on Sixth Amendment grounds in the District Court. The District Court, however, denied the petition, expressing the view that even if United States v Henry were retroactive, the trial court's findings that the informant had made no affirmative effort to elicit information from the accused were presumptively correct under 28 USCS 2254(d); and under those findings, the petition failed to state a claim based on United States v Henry. The Court of Appeals reversed, expressing the view that the ends of justice required consideration of the habeas petition, notwithstanding that in the first habeas appeal a prior panel of the Court of Appeals had determined the merits adversely to the accused. The Court of Appeals further held that the circumstances under which the accused in the present case made his incriminating statements were indistinguishable from the facts in United States v Henry, and United States v Henry was retroactively applicable to the case at hand because the decision did not announce a new constitutional rule, but merely applied settled principles to new facts.


Was the principle of “ends of justice” properly applied by the appellate court in its decision to grant the accused’s petition for habeas corpus?




According to the United States Supreme Court, 28 U.S.C.S. § 2244(b) governed successive petitions for habeas corpus relief filed by state prisoners. The Court noted that section made no reference to the "ends of justice," and provided that the federal courts need not entertain subsequent applications from state prisoners unless the application alleged and was predicated on a factual or other ground not adjudicated on the prior application, and unless the court was satisfied that the applicant has not on the earlier application deliberately withheld the newly asserted ground or otherwise abused the writ. Moreover, the Court held that the ends of justice required consideration of a successive petition for habeas corpus where the prisoner made a colorable showing of factual innocence, which respondent could not do, and that U.S. Const. amend. VI did not forbid the admission of statements made to an informant placed in close proximity who made no effort to stimulate conversations about the crime. Judgment reversing denial of habeas relief was thereby reversed, and the case was remanded.

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