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Case Basics
Docket No. 
(on behalf of the respondent, appointed by this Court)
(on behalf of the petitioner)
(on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae in support of the petitioner)
Facts of the Case 

Clifford Carrier was arrested on charges of rape and abduction in 1977. Before his trial, Carrier's attorney filed a motion asking the court to give him access to the victim's statements about her assailants, their vehicle, and the location of the rape. The court rejected the motion. Carrier was subsequently convicted, and his attorney filed an appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court. The appeal did not mention the trial judge's decision about the victim's statements. That appeal was rejected.

A year later, Carrier filed a new appeal in state court claiming that he had been denied his 14th Amendment right to Due Process by the trial judge's refusal to grant him access to the victim's statements. The court dismissed his case, however, citing Virginia Supreme Court Rule 5:21, which states that claims left out of an initial appeal cannot be raised in later appeals. Because Carrier's attorney had not mentioned the victim's statements in the first appeal, Carrier could not raise them in the second.

Carrier then filed a similar appeal in federal district court, again citing the 14th Amendment Due Process claims. The state argued that the appeal was procedural barred because it dealt with issues not raised during the initial appeal. Carrier countered that the omission of the claim had been his attorney's mistake (rather than a tactical decision), and that it should therefore not be held against him. The federal district court rejected the argument, dismissing the case. A divided Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals panel reversed the decision, finding that the omission had been the attorney's mistake and therefore represented a failure of the attorney to provide effective counsel in that particular part of the case (though the representation as a whole was not unconstitutionally poor). The panel stated that because the omission resulted from ineffective counsel, it should not be held against Carrier.


Should a claim that would otherwise be prohibited by state court procedural rules barring claims not raised in an initial appeal be permitted if a defendant can prove that the omission was due entirely to an attorney's mistake (rather than to a tactical decision)?

Decision: 7 votes for Murray, 2 vote(s) against
Legal provision:

No. In a decision authored by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the Supreme Court ruled that merely proving that an omission resulted from an attorney's mistake rather than from a tactical decision does not exempt a defendant from state court procedural rules. Justice O'Connor wrote, "We see little reason why counsel's failure to detect a colorable constitutional claim should be treated differently from a deliberate but equally prejudicial failure by counsel to raise such a claim. The fact that the latter error can be characterized as a misjudgment, while the former is more easily described as an oversight, is much too tenuous a distinction to justify a regime of evidentiary hearings into counsel's state of mind in failing to raise a claim on appeal."

Cite this Page
MURRAY v. CARRIER. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 31 July 2015. <>.
MURRAY v. CARRIER, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited July 31, 2015).
"MURRAY v. CARRIER," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed July 31, 2015,