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decided: February 22, 1989.



Blackmun, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Brennan, White, Marshall, Stevens, O'Connor, and Scalia, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 266. O'Connor, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Scalia, J., joined, post, p. 268. Kennedy, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 271.

Author: Blackmun

[ 489 U.S. Page 257]

 JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case, we consider whether the "'plain statement' rule" of Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032, 1042, and n. 7 (1983), applies in a case on federal habeas review as well as in a case on direct review in this Court. We hold that it does.


Petitioner Warren Lee Harris was convicted in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill., of murder. On direct appeal, petitioner challenged only the sufficiency of the evidence. The Appellate Court of Illinois, by an unpublished order, affirmed the conviction. App. 5; see 71 Ill. App. 3d 1113, 392 N. E. 2d 1386 (1979).

Petitioner then returned to the Circuit Court of Cook County and filed a petition for post-conviction relief, alleging that his trial counsel had rendered ineffective assistance in several respects, including his failure to call alibi witnesses.*fn1 The court dismissed the petition without an evidentiary hearing. The Appellate Court of Illinois, in another unpublished order, again affirmed. App. 9.

[ 489 U.S. Page 258]

     In its order, the Appellate Court referred to the "well-settled" principle of Illinois law that "those [issues] which could have been presented [on direct appeal], but were not, are considered waived." Id., at 12. The court found that, "except for the alibi witnesses," petitioner's ineffective-assistance allegations "could have been raised in [his] direct appeal." Ibid. The court, however, went on to consider and reject petitioner's ineffective-assistance claim on its merits.

Petitioner did not seek review in the Supreme Court of Illinois. Instead, he pursued his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim in federal court by a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U. S. C. § 2254. The District Court recognized that if the Illinois Appellate Court had held this claim to be waived under Illinois law, this Court's decision in Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72 (1977), would bar a federal court's consideration of the claim unless petitioner was able to show either "cause and prejudice" or a "miscarriage of justice." 608 F. Supp. 1369, 1377 (ND Ill. 1985).*fn2

The District Court, however, determined that the Illinois Appellate Court had not held any portion of the ineffective-assistance claim to have been waived. First, the District Court observed, the state court had "made clear" that the waiver did not apply to the issue of alibi witnesses. Id., at 1378. Second, the court never clearly held any other issue waived. The state court "did not appear to make two rulings in the alternative, but rather to note a procedural default and then ignore it, reaching the merits instead." Ibid. Based on this determination, the District Court concluded that it was permitted to consider the ineffective-assistance claim in its entirety and ordered an evidentiary hearing. Id., at 1385. After that hearing, the court, in an unpublished

[ 489 U.S. Page 259]

     memorandum and order, dismissed the claim on the merits, although it characterized the case as "a close and difficult" one. App. 45.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, 822 F.2d 684 (CA7 1987), but did not reach the merits because, in disagreement with the District Court, it believed the ineffective-assistance claim to be procedurally barred. Considering the Illinois Appellate Court's order "ambiguous" because it contained "neither an explicit finding of waiver nor an expression of an intention to ignore waiver," the Court of Appeals nonetheless asserted that a reviewing court "should try to assess the state court's intention to the extent that this is possible." Id., at 687. Undertaking this effort, the Court of Appeals concluded that the order "suggest[ed]" an intention "to find all grounds waived except that pertaining to the alibi witnesses." Ibid. Based on this interpretation of the order, the Court of Appeals concluded that the merits of petitioner's federal claim had been reached only "as an alternate holding," ibid., and considered itself precluded from reviewing the merits of the claim.*fn3

Concurring separately, Judge Cudahy stated: "Rather than attempting to divine the unspoken 'intent' of [the state] court, I think we should invoke a presumption that waiver not clearly found has been condoned." Ibid.

The disagreement between the majority and the concurrence reflects a conflict among the Courts of Appeals over the standard for determining whether a state court's ambiguous invocation of a procedural default bars federal habeas review.*fn4

[ 489 U.S. Page 260]

     We granted certiorari to resolve this conflict. 485 U.S. 934 (1988).


The confusion among the courts evidently stems from a failure to recognize that the procedural default rule of Wainwright v. Sykes has its historical and theoretical basis in the "adequate and independent state ground" doctrine. 433 U.S., at 78-79, 81-82, 87.*fn5 Once the lineage of the rule is clarified, the cure for the confusion becomes apparent.


This Court long has held that it will not consider an issue of federal law on direct review from a judgment of a state court if that judgment rests on a state-law ground that is both "independent" of the merits of the federal claim and an "adequate" basis for the court's decision. See, e. g., Fox Film Corp. v. Muller, 296 U.S. 207, 210 (1935); Murdock v. City of Memphis, 20 Wall. 590, 635-636 (1875). Although this doctrine originated in the context of state-court judgments

[ 489 U.S. Page 261]

     for which the alternative state and federal grounds were both "substantive" in nature, the doctrine "has been applied routinely to state decisions forfeiting federal claims for violation of state procedural rules." Meltzer, State Court Forfeitures of Federal Rights, 99 Harv. L. Rev. 1128, 1134 (1986).*fn6

The question whether a state court's reference to state law constitutes an adequate and independent state ground for its judgment may be rendered difficult by ambiguity in the state court's opinion. In Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032 (1983), this Court laid down a rule to avoid the difficulties associated with such ambiguity. Under Long, if "it fairly appears that the state court rested its decision primarily on federal law," this Court may reach the federal question on review unless the state court's opinion contains a "'plain statement' that [its] decision rests upon adequate and independent state grounds." Id., at 1042.*fn7

The Long "plain statement" rule applies regardless of whether the disputed state-law ground is substantive (as it was in Long) or procedural, as in Caldwell v. Mississippi, 472 U.S. 320, 327 (1985). Thus, the mere fact that a federal claimant failed to abide by a state procedural rule does not, in and of itself, prevent this Court from reaching the federal claim: "[T]he state court must actually have relied on the procedural bar as an independent basis for its disposition of the

[ 489 U.S. Page 262]

     case." Ibid. Furthermore, ambiguities in that regard must be resolved by application of the Long standard. Id., at 328.


The adequate and independent state ground doctrine, and the problem of ambiguity resolved by Long, is of concern not only in cases on direct review pursuant to 28 U. S. C. § 1257, but also in federal habeas corpus proceedings pursuant to 28 U. S. C. § 2254.

Wainwright v. Sykes made clear that the adequate and independent state ground doctrine applies on federal habeas. 433 U.S., at 81, 87. See also Ulster County Court v. Allen, 442 U.S. 140, 148 (1979). Under Sykes and its progeny, an adequate and independent finding of procedural default will bar federal habeas review of the federal claim, unless the habeas petitioner can show "cause" for the default and "prejudice attributable thereto," Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 485 (1986), or demonstrate that failure to consider the federal claim will result in a "'fundamental miscarriage of justice.'" Id., at 495, quoting Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 135 (1982). See also Smith v. Murray, 477 U.S. 527, 537 (1986).

Conversely, a federal claimant's procedural default precludes federal habeas review, like direct review, only if the last state court rendering a judgment in the case rests its judgment on the procedural default. See Caldwell v. Mississippi, 472 U.S., at 327; Ulster County Court v. Allen, 442 U.S., at 152-154. Moreover, the question whether the state court indeed has done so is sometimes as difficult to answer on habeas review as on direct review. Just as this Court under § 1257 encounters state-court opinions that are unclear on this point, so too do the federal courts under § 2254.*fn8

Habeas review thus presents the same problem of ambiguity that this Court resolved in Michigan v. Long. We held in

[ 489 U.S. Page 263]

     bar, the federal court should presume that it does. Respondents claim that applying the Long "plain statement" requirement to habeas cases would harm the interests of finality, federalism, and comity. This Court has been alert in recognizing that federal habeas review touches upon these significant state interests. Wainwright v. Sykes itself reveals this. See 433 U.S., at 90-91. We believe, however, that applying Long to habeas burdens those interests only minimally, if at all. The benefits, in contrast, are substantial.

A state court remains free under the Long rule to rely on a state procedural bar and thereby to foreclose federal habeas review to the extent permitted by Sykes.*fn10 Requiring a state court to be explicit in its reliance on a procedural default does not interfere unduly with state judicial decision-making. As Long itself recognized, it would be more intrusive for a federal court to second-guess a state court's determination of state law. 463 U.S., at 1041. Moreover, state courts have become familiar with the "plain statement" requirement under Long and Caldwell. Under our decision today, a state court need do nothing more to preclude habeas review than it must do to preclude direct review.

In contrast, respondents' proposed rule would impose substantial burdens on the federal courts. At oral argument, counsel for respondents conceded that in some circumstances, under their proposal, the federal habeas court would ...

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