On the Threshold of Wainwright v Sykes: Federal Habeas Court Scrutiny of State Procedural Rules and Rulings

This Note examines specific problems which stand on the threshold of Wainwright v. Sykes. Resolution of these problems is necessary to determine whether a state ruling is based upon an adequate state procedural ground, requiring application of the cause-and-prejudice test before habeas review will be permitted. Part I analyzes the rationale for the rule of Wainwright v. Sykes as well as its historical underpinnings. Part II examines the treatment of state court decisions that are based both on a defaulted claim and, in the alternative, on the merits of that claim. This Part concludes that decisions containing such alternative holdings should be governed by Sykes, because the concerns implicit in the Sykes standard apply with equal force when state courts have addressed the merits of a claim as well as procedural issues. Part III examines the proper treatment of state court decisions that affirm a petitioner’s conviction without opinion. This Note argues for a presumption in favor of habeas review in such “silent affirmance” cases. Part IV explores the standard by which to determine if a given state ruling, even when unambiguously procedural, constitutes a state ground for decision that is “adequate” to preclude habeas review. This Part concludes that a state procedural ruling is adequate to bar habeas review if the forfeiture called for is reasonably calculated to promote a legitimate interest of the state.