323 U.S. 485 (1945), 64, Tomkins v. Missouri

Docket Nº:No. 64
Citation:323 U.S. 485, 65 S.Ct. 370, 89 L.Ed. 407
Party Name:Tomkins v. Missouri
Case Date:January 08, 1945
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 485

323 U.S. 485 (1945)

65 S.Ct. 370, 89 L.Ed. 407

Tomkins

v.

Missouri

No. 64

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 8, 1945

Argued December 12, 1944

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF MISSOURI

Syllabus

In a petition to the Supreme Court of Missouri for a writ of habeas corpus, the petitioner, confined in a state penitentiary for life upon his plea of guilty to a charge of murder in the first degree, alleged that he was not represented by counsel, that the court did not make an effective appointment of counsel, that he did not waive his constitutional right to counsel, that he was ignorant of his right to demand counsel, and that he was incapable adequately of making his own defense. The court allowed the petitioner to proceed in forma pauperis, but denied the petition for failure to state a cause of action.

Held:

1. The allegations of the petition are here assumed to be true. Williams v. Kaiser, ante, p. 471. P. 487.

2. A request for counsel by one accused of a capital offense who is unable to employ counsel and incapable adequately of making his own defense is unnecessary; it is the duty of the court in such case to appoint counsel. P. 487.

3. That the petition in such a case as this is not drawn with precision and clarity is not fatal where the substance of the claim is plain. P. 487.

4. The nature of the offense charged against the petitioner -- who could have been found guilty of murder in the first or second degree or of manslaughter, with varying penalties -- emphasized the need of counsel. P. 488.

5. The petition sufficiently alleged a deprivation of the right to counsel in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45. P. 489.

Reversed.

Page 486

Certiorari, 322 U.S. 725, to review an order denying a petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case is a companion case to Williams v. Kaiser, ante, p. 471. It, too, is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus here on certiorari to the Missouri Supreme Court. It is alleged in the petition that petitioner, in 1934, was charged with murder in the first degree, pleaded guilty to the charge, and was convicted and sentenced to the state penitentiary for life, where he is presently confined. T he petition was filed in 1944. The other salient facts alleged are as follows:

The petitioner states that in the proceedings in said Circuit Court of Pemiscot County, Missouri, he was not represented by counsel, the Court did not make an effective appointment of counsel, the petitioner did not waive his constitutional right to the aid of counsel, and he was ignorant of his right to demand counsel in his behalf, and he was incapable adequately of making his own defense.

And he contends that he was deprived of counsel contrary to the requirements of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Here, as in the Williams case, the Supreme Court of Missouri allowed petitioner to proceed in forma pauperis, but denied the petition for the reason that it "fails to state a cause of action." The petition for habeas corpus was denied without requiring the State to answer or without giving petitioner an opportunity to

Page 487

prove his allegations. And the allegations contained in the petition do not appear to be inconsistent with the recitals of the certified copy of the sentence and judgment which accompanied the petition and under which petitioner is confined. Hence, we must assume here, as in the Williams case, that the allegations of the petition are true.

Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45, 71, held that, at least in capital cases

where the defendant is unable to employ counsel, and is incapable adequately of making his own defense because of ignorance, feeble-mindedness, illiteracy, or the like, it is the duty of the court, whether requested or not, to assign counsel for him as a necessary requisite of due process of law.

Under that...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP