316 U.S. 455 (1942), 837, Betts v. Brady

Docket Nº:No. 837
Citation:316 U.S. 455, 62 S.Ct. 1252, 86 L.Ed. 1595
Party Name:Betts v. Brady
Case Date:June 01, 1942
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 455

316 U.S. 455 (1942)

62 S.Ct. 1252, 86 L.Ed. 1595




No. 837

United States Supreme Court

June 1, 1942

Argued April 13, 14, 1942






1. In the light of the applicable law of Maryland, an order of the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, he being also the judge of that court from the City of Baltimore, denying petitioner's release upon a writ of habeas corpus held reviewable here by certiorari under Jud.Code § 237, as a "final judgment" of the "highest court" in which a decision of the federal question involved could be had. P. 458.

2. A judgment of a state tribunal denying release on habeas corpus, which is not reviewable in any other state court and ends the particular proceeding, is a final judgment within the meaning of Jud.Code § 237, notwithstanding that, under the state law, the prisoner retains the right to seek discharge by applications to other courts and judges successively. P. 460.

3. The due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not incorporate, as such, the specific guarantees found in the Sixth Amendment, although a denial by a State of rights or privileges specifically embodied in that and others of the first eight amendments may, in certain circumstances, or in connection with other elements, operate, in a given case, to deprive a litigant of due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth. P. 461.

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4. The application of the due process clause to State criminal proceedings is not governed by hard and fast rule. Asserted denial of due process is to be tested by appraisal of all facts in the case, and that which in one setting may constitute a denial of due process because it is a denial of fundamental fairness shocking to the universal sense of justice may, in other circumstances, and in the light of other considerations, fall short of such a denial. P. 462.

5. Decisions of this Court do not lay down a rule that, in every case, whatever the circumstances, one charged with crime who is unable to obtain counsel must be furnished counsel by the State. P. 462.

6. A review of state constitutional and statutory provisions on the subject in connection with the common law demonstrates that, in the great majority of the States, it has been the considered judgment of the people, their representatives, and their courts that an appointment of counsel for indigent defendants in criminal cases is not a fundamental right, essential to a fair trial, and that the matter has generally been deemed one of legislative policy. In the light of this evidence, it cannot be said that the concept of due process incorporated in the Fourteenth Amendment obliges the State, whatever may be their own views, to furnish counsel in every such case. P. 471.

7. Upon the facts of this case, the refusal of a state court to appoint counsel to represent an indigent defendant at a trial in which he was connected of robbery did not deny him due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 472.


CERTIORARI, 315 U.S. 791, to review an order of a judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland from the City of Baltimore, denying petitioner's release upon a writ of habeas corpus.

ROBERTS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner was indicted for robbery in the Circuit Court of Carroll County, Maryland. Due to lack of funds,

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he was unable to employ counsel, and so informed the judge at his arraignment. He requested that counsel be appointed for him. The judge advised him that this would not be done, as it was not the practice in Carroll County to appoint counsel for indigent defendants, save in prosecutions for murder and rape.

Without waiving his asserted right to counsel, the petitioner pleaded not guilty and [62 S.Ct. 1254] elected to be tried without a jury. At his request, witnesses were summoned in his behalf. He cross-examined the State's witnesses and examined his own. The latter gave testimony tending to establish an alibi. Although afforded the opportunity, he did not take the witness stand. The judge found him guilty, and imposed a sentence of eight years.

While serving his sentence, the petitioner filed with a judge of the Circuit Court for Washington County, Maryland, a petition for a writ of habeas corpus alleging that he had been deprived of the right to assistance of counsel guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution. The writ issued, the cause was heard, his contention was rejected, and he was remanded to the custody of the prison warden.

Some months later, a petition for a writ of habeas corpus was presented to Hon. Carroll T. Bond, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, setting up the same grounds for the prisoner's release as the former petition. The respondent answered, a hearing was afforded, at which an agreed statement of facts was offered by counsel for the parties, the evidence taken at the petitioner's trial was incorporated in the record, and the cause was argued. Judge Bond granted the writ, but, for reasons set forth in an opinion, denied the relief prayed and remanded the petitioner to the respondent's custody.

The petitioner applied to this court for certiorari directed to Judge Bond. The writ was issued on account of the importance of the jurisdictional questions involved

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and conflicting decisions1 upon the constitutional question presented. In awarding the writ, we requested counsel to discuss the jurisdiction of this court,

particularly (1) whether the decision below is that of a court within the meaning of § 2372 of the Judicial Code, and (2) whether state remedies, either by appeal or by application to other judges or any other state court, have been exhausted.

1. Sec. 237 of the Judicial Code declares this court competent to review, upon certiorari, "any cause wherein a final judgment . . . has been rendered . . . by the highest court" of a State "in which a decision could be had" on a federal question. Was Judge Bond's judgment that of a court within the meaning of the statute? Answer must be made in the light of the applicable law of Maryland.

Art. 4, § 6 of the State Constitution provides: "All Judges shall by virtue of their offices be Conservators of the Peace throughout the State; . . ." Sec. 1 of Art. 42 of the Public General Laws of Maryland (Flack's 1939 Edition) invests the Court of Appeals and the Chief Judge thereof, the Circuit Courts for the respective counties, and the several judges thereof, the Superior Court of Baltimore City, the Court of Common Pleas of that city, the Circuit Court and Circuit Court No. 2 of Baltimore City, the Baltimore City Court, and the judges of the said courts, out of court, and the Judge of the Court of Appeals from the City of Baltimore, with power to grant writs of habeas corpus and to exercise jurisdiction in all matters pertaining thereto.

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Although it is settled that the grant to the Court of Appeals of the power to issue the writ is unconstitutional and void,3 and although the statute does not confer on individual judges of the Court of Appeals the power to issue a writ and proceed thereon, nevertheless those judges, as conservators of the peace, have the power under the quoted section of the Constitution.4 In any event, Judge Bond is the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals and the judge of that court from the City of [62 S.Ct. 1255] Baltimore, and, as such, is empowered to act.

Sections 2 to 6, inclusive, 9 to 12 inclusive, and 17 of the statute prescribe the procedure governing the issue of the writ, its service, the return, and the hearing. No question is made but that Judge Bond complied with these provisions. It is, therefore, apparent that, in all respects, he acted in a judicial capacity, and that, in his proper person, he was a judicial tribunal having jurisdiction, upon pleadings and proofs, to hear and to adjudicate the issue of the legality of the petitioner's detention. If Judge Bond had been sitting in term time as a member of a court, clothed with power to act as one of the members of that court, his judgment would be that of a court within the scope of § 237. Doubt that his judgment in the present instance is such arises out of our decision in McKnight v. James, 155 U.S. 685, where we refused to review the denial of a discharge by a judge of an inferior court of Ohio who issued the writ and heard the case at chambers. It appeared that the petitioner had addressed his petition to a judge of the Circuit Court, instead of the court itself, and that, for this reason, the order of the judge was not reviewable by the Supreme Court of Ohio as it would have been had the writ been addressed

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to the Circuit Court, though heard by a single judge. The petitioner had not exhausted his state remedy since, though he could have obtained a decision by the highest Court of the State, he had avoided doing so, and then sought to come to this court directly from the order of the Circuit Judge on the theory that that judge's order was the final order of the highest court of the State which could decide his case. In a later decision, we referred to this and other cognate cases as deciding that appeals do not lie to this court from orders by judges at chambers,5 but the fundamental reason for denying our jurisdiction was that the appellant had not exhausted state remedies.

In view of what has been said of the power of Judge Bond as a judicial tribunal to hear and finally decide the cause, and of the judicial quality of his action, we are of opinion that his judgment was that of a court within the intendment of § 237.

2. Did the judgment entered comply with the requirement of § 237 that it must be a final judgment rendered by the highest court in which a...

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