The United States Supreme Court today decided Baldwin v. Reese, upholding the position of the state of Oregon and reversing the judgment of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The case was argued by Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers on December 8, 2003. It was the first case argued by an Oregon Attorney General in over eleven years. The decision had one dissenting opinion authored by Justice Stevens.
The key issue in the case was whether Michael Reese, a state prisoner appealing a conviction of kidnapping and attempted sodomy charges, was eligible to seek federal habeas corpus relief for inadequate assistance of counsel. Before appealing to the federal courts, prisoners must demonstrate that they have exhausted all available state remedies. In effect, the prisoner must "fairly present" his claims in each of the state's three courts: circuit court, the Oregon Court of Appeals and the Oregon Supreme Court.
In the Reese case, the state asserted that Reese, in his petition to the Oregon Supreme Court, never explicitly asserted a claim that his trial attorney's conduct violated the federal constitution. Consequently, the Court did not address the matter. The state further argued that the prisoner was therefore not permitted to raise this issue in his federal habeas corpus proceeding because he had not exhausted his state remedy.
Reese argued that he had raised the issue in the circuit court and that, as such, there is no need to alert the other state courts.
In an opinion delivered to the Court by Justice Breyer, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the state saying, "To say that a petitioner "fairly presents" a federal claim when an appellate judge can discover that claim only by reading lower court opinions in the case is to say that those judges must read the lower court opinions." The Court went on to say, "In our view, federal habeas corpus law does not impose such a requirement."
Fundamentally, the Supreme Court determined that requiring a prisoner to explicitly state that a claim was federal in nature was not an undue burden, particularly when balanced against a requirement that appellate court judges scrutinize all lower court decisions for any claims not raised in the briefs presented to their specific court.
Kevin Neely, Justice, (503) 378-6002