Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465; 96 S. Ct. 3037; 49 L. Ed. 2d 1067 (1976)

Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465; 96 S. Ct. 3037; 49 L. Ed. 2d 1067 (1976)

Facts—Powell of California and Rice of Nebraska were both convicted in state courts of homicide. In both cases, these courts ruled that evidence in their cases should not be excluded under the exclusionary rule used to enforce the Fourth Amendment. Both subsequently appealed to federal courts, with the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals siding with Powell against the state, and the Eighth Circuit siding with Rice. The prison wardens, named Stone and Wolff, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Question—In cases alleging violations of the Fourth Amendment, are defendants whose claims have been fully heard in state courts entitled to collateral habeas corpus review in federal courts of the admissibility of evidence?


ReasonsJ. Powell (6–3). Over the course of U.S. history, the power of federal courts to grant habeas corpus review has been continually expanded.

The exclusionary rule “was a judicially created means of effecting the rights secured by the Fourth Amendment.” Although it is partly justified as a means of preserving judicial integrity, it has primarily been justified as a means of deterring illegal police conduct. It thus does not establish “a personal constitutional right,” but has been limited to cases where it serves its deterrent rationale. The costs of applying the exclusionary rule through federal appeals could be substantial and the benefits minimal—“the additional contribution, if any, of the consideration of search-and-seizure claims of state prisoners on collateral review is small in relation to the costs.” Thus, when state courts have “provided an opportunity for full and fair litigation of a Fourth Amend ment claim, a state prisoner may not be granted federal habeas corpus relief on the ground that evidence obtained in an unconstitutional search or seizure was introduced at his trial.”

C.J. Burger’s concurrence expressed his continuing dissatisfaction with the costs of the exclusionary rule to the fact-finding process and argued that the application of the rule needed to be limited. J. Brennan’s dissent argued that the Court’s decision portended “substantial evisceration of federal habeas corpus jurisdiction.” He did not think that all exclusionary rule considerations should evaporate after state review. In dissent, J. White agreed with Brennan that there was little reason to distinguish Fourth Amendment habeas corpus review from review in other cases, but also indicated that he would “join four or more other Justices in substantially limiting the reach of the exclusionary rule as presently administered under the Fourth Amendment in federal and state criminal trials.” White was particularly concerned about the application of the rule to exclude evidence that police had obtained in “good faith,” an area where the Court has subsequently made some exceptions; see, for example, Arizona v. Evans, 514 U.S. 1 (1995).

Note—In Withrow v. Williams, 507 U.S. 680 (1993), the Court, in a 5–4 decision written by J. Souter, distinguished this case from those involving review under the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel, which the Court believed was a personal constitutional right, and which it would therefore accept on collateral review.

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