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Townsend v. Sain 372 U.S. 29 (1963)

TOWNSEND v. SAIN 372 U.S. 29 (1963)

When a state prisoner seeks federal habeas corpus review of a constitutional error in his or her case, the federal court must decide what weight to give the state court fact findings that are relevant to the prisoner's claim. The fairness and accuracy of such findings are crucial to the proper adjudication of federal constitutional rights, because most habeas corpus petitions raise mixed questions of law and fact, such as the voluntariness of a waiver of constitutional rights, or the suggestiveness of a line-up identification. inTownsend, a unanimous Supreme Court held that a federal court in a habeas corpus proceeding always has the power to try the facts anew, and that it must do so if the defendant did not receive a full and fair evidentiary hearing in any state court proceeding. The Court split 5–4 over the need for more specific directives concerning mandatory hearings, with Chief Justice earl warren setting forth the majority's view that a hearing is required in six particular circumstances.

In 1966, Congress enacted a modified form of the Townsend criteria in an amendment to the judicial code, specifying eight circumstances when the validity of state court findings may not be presumed. In other circumstances, the habeas corpus petitioner bears the burden of proving that the state fact findings were erroneous.

Catherine Hancock

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