334 U.S. 314 (1948), 583, Paterno v. Lyons

Docket Nº:No. 583
Citation:334 U.S. 314, 68 S.Ct. 1044, 92 L.Ed. 1409
Party Name:Paterno v. Lyons
Case Date:June 01, 1948
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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334 U.S. 314 (1948)

68 S.Ct. 1044, 92 L.Ed. 1409

Paterno

v.

Lyons

No. 583

United States Supreme Court

June 1, 1948

Argued April 28, 1948

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS OF NEW YORK

Syllabus

Indicted in a New York state court for receiving stolen property, petitioner was permitted to plead guilty to attempted grand larceny second degree, a lesser offense not charged in the indictment. He failed to avail himself, within the time prescribed, of state law remedies for challenging the validity of the conviction under state law. Later, he was convicted for another offense and sentenced as a second offender. Thereafter, he attacked the validity of the first conviction under state and federal law. Upon review here of a judgment denying relief, held:

1. The decision of the highest court of the State that acceptance of the plea of guilty to the lesser offense did not deprive petitioner of his right under the state constitution to be prosecuted for an infamous crime only upon a grand jury indictment was binding here. Pp. 318-319.

2. The remedies provided by state law for challenging the validity of the conviction under state law (viz., motion to withdraw plea of guilty, motion in arrest of judgment, or direct appeal) were adequate from the standpoint of the due process of law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, at least in the absence of any showing that petitioner was without opportunity effectively to take advantage of such remedies. P. 319.

3. In view of the relationship of the two offenses under the state statutes, the indictment charging only receiving stolen property afforded petitioner reasonable notice and information of the lesser offense to which he pleaded guilty, and he was not in this respect denied due process of law. Pp. 319-322.

297 N.Y. 617, 75 N.E.2d 630, affirmed.

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A county court of New York adjudged invalid a conviction of petitioner upon a plea of guilty in a criminal prosecution, 187 Misc. 56, 60 N.Y.S.2d 813, but was prevented from vacating the judgment by a writ of prohibition issued upon the application of the State. 272 A.D. 120, 69 N.Y.S. 715. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 297 N.Y. 617, 75 N.E.2d 630. This Court granted certiorari. 333 U.S. 831. Affirmed, p. 322.

BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

October 30, 1936, the petitioner was indicted in the County Court of Erie County, New York, on a charge of

Buying, receiving, concealing, and withholding property, knowing the same to have been stolen or appropriated wrongfully in such manner as to constitute larceny, contrary to the Penal Law, Section 1308, in that he, the said Joseph Paterno, on or about the 5th day of October, 1936 at the City of Tonawanda, in this County, feloniously brought, received, concealed, and withheld property stolen from Charles M. Rosen, doing business under the assumed name and style of Arcade Jewelry Shop.

The punishments provided for this offense and for larceny are substantially the same. Both may, according to circumstances, range up to ten years at hard labor.1 November 10, 1936, petitioner appeared in court with counsel,

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pleaded not guilty to the indictment and was released on a bond of $2,500. Five months later, on April 14, 1937, he again appeared in Erie County Court and, upon agreement with the district attorney, was "permitted to plead guilty to the reduced charge of Attempted Grand Larceny 2nd Degree." Under New York law, the punishment for such an attempt can be no more than half the punishment provided for the offense attempted.2 The sentence, not imposed until July 16, three months after the plea of guilty, was for fifteen months' minimum and thirty months' maximum at hard labor. This sentence was suspended, and petitioner was placed on probation with a requirement that he "make restitution of $75.00 cash balance as determined by probation dept."

Although discharged from probation December 1, 1938, petitioner, on December 27, 1945, made a motion in the nature of coram nobis in the Erie County Court asking that court to vacate and set aside its former conviction of petitioner, permit withdrawal of the plea of guilty, and for leave to plead de novo. There was a special reason why petitioner wished to vacate this judgment long after the probationary restraints of the sentence had been lifted. In the meantime, he had pleaded guilty in the Chautauqua County Court, New York, to the crime of robbery second degree under an indictment charging him with robbery first degree. In accordance with the requirements of the

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New York second felony offender law,3 the Chautauqua County judge had sentenced petitioner to 15 to 30 years at hard labor, proof having been made before him of petitioner's prior Erie County conviction for attempted grand larceny second degree.

The grounds of the motion in the nature of coram nobis were that the Erie County Court had exceeded its power in accepting his plea of guilty to the offense of attempted grand larceny second degree under the indictment which charged him with the offense of receiving, concealing, and withholding [68 S.Ct. 1046] property knowing it to have been stolen. He alleged that judgment of conviction in a case initiated by an indictment which did not include the charge to which he had pleaded guilty denied him his right under Art. 1, § 6 of the New York Constitution to be prosecuted for an infamous crime only by indictment of a grand jury,4 and also denied him due process of law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.5

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The judge of the Erie County Court was of opinion that acceptance of the plea of guilty to the lesser offense deprived him of rights guaranteed by the New York Constitution, and that therefore his conviction was without due process of law. People v. Paterno, 187 Misc. 56, 60 N.Y.S.2d 813. That judge was prevented from vacating the judgment, however, by a writ of prohibition issued upon the application of the State by the Supreme Court of Erie County. That court held that Paterno had "been denied no constitutional or legal right." The Fourth Department of the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, affirmed. Matter of Lyons, 272 A.D. 120, 69 N.Y.S.2d 715, stating that acceptance of Paterno's plea to the lesser offense might have been an error of law which would have justified relief by motion in arrest of judgment or by appeal as of right, but that petitioner, having declined to avail himself of these remedies within the statutory period, could not later raise the question.6 It failed to accept Paterno's claim that the circumstances under which his plea was entered deprived him of due process of law. The New York Court of Appeals affirmed without opinion. 297 N.Y. 617, 75 N.E.2d 630. We granted certiorari. 333 U.S. 831.

It is again contended here that acceptance of petitioner's plea of guilty to attempted grand larceny second degree under an indictment which charged that he had bought, received, concealed, and withheld stolen property deprived him of his right under the New York Constitution to be prosecuted for an infamous crime only by a grand jury indictment, and that consequently the Erie County judgment of conviction is a nullity. But this contention

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as to New York law has previously been rejected by the State's highest court in People ex rel. Wachowicz v. Martin, 293 N.Y. 361, 57 N.E.2d 53, and was again rejected by the New York courts in this case. Their decision on such a state question is final here. In re Duncan, 139 U.S. 449, 462; West v. Louisiana, 194 U.S. 258, 261.

Petitioner next argues that the State has failed to supply him an available remedy to...

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