U.S. Supreme Court
Burden v. Zant, 498 U.S. 433 (1991)
Burden v. Zant
Decided Feb. 19, 1991
498 U.S. 433
At the time that they were charged with several murders, petitioner Burden and his nephew, Henry Dixon, were both represented by attorney Kondritzer. A different attorney represented Burden at his trial. However, Dixon was never indicted, and he provided the sole evidence linking Burden to the murders. Both Dixon and the prosecutor acknowledged that Dixon testified under a grant of immunity, a fact credited by the trial court in its mandatory post-trial report. Burden was convicted and exhausted his state remedies. Subsequently, he filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Federal District Court, alleging that he did not receive effective assistance of counsel because his counsel counsel labored under a conflict of interest. The court denied relief on the ground that he had not shown an adverse impact on the representation of his counsel, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. That court rejected Burden's argument that his interest was adversely affected by Kondritzer's negotiation of an immunity agreement for Dixon, finding that there was no evidence that Dixon testified under such an agreement.
Held: In rejecting Burden's conflict of interest claim, the Court of Appeals improperly failed to give a presumption of correctness to a state court factual finding as required by 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). A habeas court may not disregard the presumption unless it expressly finds that one of the enumerated exceptions to § 2254(d). A habeas court may not disregard the presumption unless it expressly finds that one of the enumerated exceptions to § 2254(d) is met, and it explains the reasoning in support of its conclusion. See Sumner v. Mata, 449 U. S. 539, 498 U. S. 549, 498 U. S. 551. However, the Court of Appeals neither mentioned the trial court's finding that Dixon received immunity nor explained why the finding was not entitled to a presumption of correctness. Respondent's contention that Burden waived reliance on § 2254(d) in the Court of Appeals by failing to sufficiently emphasize the trial court's finding mischaracterizes the record, since the immunity agreement was the central fact supporting his conflict of interest claim.
Certiorari granted; 903 F.2d 1352, reversed and remanded.