350 U.S. 91 (1955), Michel v. Louisiana

Citation:350 U.S. 91, 76 S.Ct. 158, 100 L.Ed. 83
Party Name:Michel v. Louisiana
Case Date:December 05, 1955
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 91

350 U.S. 91 (1955)

76 S.Ct. 158, 100 L.Ed. 83




United States Supreme Court

Dec. 5, 1955



1. Louisiana law requires that objections to a grand jury be raised before the expiration of the third judicial day following the end of the grand jury's term or before trial, whichever is earlier. After expiration of the time allowed, these three Negro petitioners moved to quash their indictments on the ground that there was systematic exclusion of Negroes from the grand juries which indicted them. Their motions were denied, and each was convicted of a capital offense.

Held: in the circumstances of these cases, application of the rule to these petitioners did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 92-102.

2. Michel was indicted on February 19 and presented for arraignment on February 23. He appeared without counsel, and arraignment was continued for one week. The record shows that counsel was appointed for him on March 2, the date the grand jury term expired. Counsel contended that he did not consider himself appointed until March 5, when he received written notice from the court. The motion to quash, not filed until March 9, was denied as being out of time.

Held: the finding of the lower courts that counsel was appointed March 2 is sustained. Since the appointed counsel, a lawyer experienced in state criminal practice, had adequate time to file the motion after his appointment, application of the rule was not unreasonable. Pp. 95-96.

3. Poret fled from the State shortly after the crime was committed, and remained outside the State until long after the time for filing a motion to quash his indictment had expired. After returning to the State on October 3 and retaining counsel on October 26, he did not file his motion to quash until November 7 -- after he had been arraigned and had filed other motions which implied a waiver of his objections to the grand jury.

Held: Louisiana's rule requiring timely objections to the composition of a grand jury need not be suspended for the benefit of one who, by his own action, fails to avail himself of the state remedy; and there was no violation of due process in denying the motion as out of time. Pp. 96-100.

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4. Labat was indicted December 11, 1950, and arraigned on January 3, 1951. On January 5, 1951, the court appointed competent counsel for him, and the term of the grand jury that had indicted him did not expire until March, 1951. In January, 1952, court-appointed counsel withdrew from the case and another counsel was appointed, but motion to quash the indictment was not made until November 7, 1952.

Held: inadequacy of counsel will not be presumed from failure to file a pretrial motion where the matter was within counsel's discretion and there were valid reasons for not filing. In the circumstances of this case, there was no violation of due process in denying the motion as out of time. Pp. 100-101.

225 La. 1040, 74 So.2d 207, and 226 La. 201, 75 So.2d 333, affirmed.

CLARK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Louisiana requires that objections to a grand jury be raised before the expiration of the third judicial day following the end of the grand jury's term or before trial, whichever is earlier.1 In these cases, we are asked [76 S.Ct. 160] to

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decide whether this statute as applied violates the Fourteenth Amendment. The three petitioners, all Negroes sentenced to death for aggravated rape, make no attack on the composition of the petit jury nor on the fairness of their trials, but challenge the composition of the grand juries which indicted them on the ground that there was a systematic exclusion of Negroes from the panels. No hearing was held on these allegations, because the lower courts found that the question had been waived. In each case, the Supreme Court of Louisiana affirmed, 225 La. 1040, 74 So.2d 207, and 226 La. 201, 75 So.2d 333, and we granted certiorari, 348 U.S. 936 and 348 U.S. 950, because of the importance of the issues involved.

Grand juries in Orleans Parish are impaneled in September and March to serve for six months. Since § 202 of the Louisiana Criminal Code, as interpreted, requires a defendant to object to the grand jury before three judicial days after its term, the time to raise such objections may vary from a minimum of three days -- if the defendant is indicted on the last day of the term -- to a much longer period if he is indicted during the term. Section 284 of the Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure provides that, in any case, such objections must be made before arraignment.

We do not find that this requirement, on its face, raises an insuperable barrier to one making claim to federal rights. The test is whether the defendant has had "`a reasonable opportunity to have the issue as to the claimed right heard and determined' by the State court." Parker v. Illinois, 333 U.S. 571, 574; Davis v. Wechsler, 263 U.S. 22; Central Union Tel. Co. v. Edwardsville, 269 U.S. 190; Paterno v. Lyons, 334 U.S. 314. See Carter v.

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Texas, 177 U.S. 442. In Avery v. Alabama, 308 U.S. 444, this Court held that a lapse of three days between the appointment of counsel and the date of trial was not of itself a denial of due process. In Louisiana, a motion to quash is a short, simple document, easily prepared in a single afternoon.2 In the light of Avery, a three-day minimum for such a motion is not unreasonable. Wilson

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v. Louisiana, 320 U.S. 714.3 But, in the circumstances of a particular case, the application of such a rule may not give a reasonable opportunity to raise the federal question. See Reece v. Georgia, ante, p. 85. Accordingly, we pass to a consideration of the facts in each of these cases.

No. 32. John Michel. -- Michel was indicted by the grand jury on February 19, 1953, and was presented to the court for arraignment on February 23. He appeared without counsel, and the arraignment was continued for one week. During that week, the trial judge talked with Mr. Schreiber, a former assistant district attorney with wide experience in local criminal practice. He asked Mr. Schreiber whether he would take the case if private counsel was not retained. The judge indicated that if Mr. Schreiber accepted, additional counsel would be appointed.

The term of the grand jury which indicted Michel expired March 2, 1953. On that same date, Michel appeared again for arraignment without counsel. Mr. Schreiber was also present in court on other business, and the trial judge then appointed him counsel for Michel. Whereupon Mr. Schreiber asked the court to give him an opportunity to look it over and continue the matter for one week. No mention of co-counsel was made, and the continuance was granted.

Thereafter, on March 5, Mr. Schreiber received a formal notice of his appointment, which, though not required by Louisiana law, appears at times to have been served in appointment cases. On March 6, Mr. Fust was appointed co-counsel. The motion to quash the indictment was filed on March 9 -- four days after Mr. Schreiber received the formal notice of appointment, and five judicial days

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(7 calendar days) after the expiration of the term of the grand jury. The State demurred on the ground that it came too late.

The determination of a single question of fact is decisive in this case: the precise date of appointment of counsel for Michel. It is contended that Mr. Schreiber was not appointed as counsel until March 5, the date of his formal notice; that he was not aware that he was to be chief counsel until after Mr. Fust told him on the 7th of his appointment to "assist" Mr. Schreiber; and that, even if he assumed that he was appointed on March 2, he was unfamiliar with the case and thought the week's continuance held open for that period all of petitioner's rights. The record, however, shows without contradiction that Mr. Schreiber was appointed in open court, in the presence of petitioner, on [76...

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