357 U.S. 504 (1958), 177, Cicenia v. Lagay

Docket Nº:No. 177
Citation:357 U.S. 504, 78 S.Ct. 1297, 2 L.Ed.2d 1523
Party Name:Cicenia v. Lagay
Case Date:June 30, 1958
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 504

357 U.S. 504 (1958)

78 S.Ct. 1297, 2 L.Ed.2d 1523




No. 177

United States Supreme Court

June 30, 1958

Argued April 2, 1958




Claiming that his conviction of murder in a state court on a plea of non vult violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, petitioner applied to a Federal District Court for a writ of habeas corpus, which was denied. He had retained counsel before his arrest, but, while being questioned by state police, he was repeatedly denied the right to consult his counsel until he had confessed. He was not permitted to inspect his confession before pleading to the indictment.

Held: petitioner's conviction did not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 505-511.

1. An independent examination of the record satisfies this Court that the District Court was justified in concluding that petitioner failed to substantiate the charge that his confession was coerced. P. 508.

2. Refusal to permit petitioner to consult his counsel while being questioned by the state police did not, of itself, violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Crooker v. California, ante, p. 433. Pp. 508-510.

3. In the absence of a showing of prejudice, petitioner was not denied due process by the trial judge's discretionary refusal to permit him to inspect his written confession before pleading to the indictment. Pp. 510-511.

240 F.2d 844, affirmed.

Page 505

HARLAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

We are asked to reverse, under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, a state conviction which was entered upon a plea of non vult to an indictment for first degree murder.

In the evening of March 17, 1947, Charles Kittuah, the owner of a small dry goods store in Newark, New Jersey, was shot and killed during the course of a robbery. The crime remained unsolved until December 17, 1949, when the Newark police obtained information implicating the petitioner and two others, Armando Corvino and John DeMasi. Petitioner lived with his parents at Orange, New Jersey. Apparently acting at the request of the Newark police, the Orange police sought to locate petitioner at his home. When told that he was out, the police left word that he was to report at the Orange police headquarters the following day. Petitioner sought the advice of Frank A. Palmieri, a lawyer, who advised him to report as requested. Petitioner did so, accompanied by his father and brother. Upon arrival at the Orange police station at 9 a.m. on December 18, petitioner was separated from the others and taken by detectives to the Newark police headquarters. At approximately 2 p.m. the same day, petitioner's father, brother, and Mr. Palmieri, the lawyer, arrived at the Newark station. Mr. Palmieri immediately asked to see petitioner, but this request was refused by the police. He repeated this request at intervals throughout the afternoon and well into the evening, but without success. During this period petitioner, who was being questioned intermittently by the police, asked to see his lawyer. These requests were also denied. Lawyer and client were not permitted to confer until 9:30 p.m., by which time petitioner had made and signed a written confession to the murder of Kittuah. The confession is not in the record.

Page 506

Petitioner was arraigned the next day, December 19, and subsequently indicted, along with Corvino and DeMasi, both of whom had also confessed to the murder. Thereafter, petitioner moved in the Essex County Court for an order requiring the State to produce for inspection before trial his confession and the confessions of his co-defendants and, alternatively, for an order suppressing his confession on the ground that it had been illegally obtained. The County Court denied the motion. The Superior Court of New Jersey dismissed the appeal, State v. Cicenia, 9 N.J.Super. 135, 75 A.2d 476, and the Supreme Court of New Jersey affirmed the dismissal with modifications. 6 N.J. 296, 78 A.2d 568. The State Supreme Court held that New Jersey had no procedure like that under Rule 41(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure by which inadmissible evidence could be suppressed before trial; that, under New Jersey law, criminal defendants did not have an absolute right to inspect their confessions in advance [78 S.Ct. 1299] of trial; and that the trial judge in this instance did not abuse his discretion in disallowing such an inspection.

Following his failure to suppress or obtain inspection of his confession petitioner, on the advice of his attorney, offered to plead non vult to the indictment. In New Jersey, such a plea is subject to discretionary acceptance by the trial court, State v. Martin, 92 N.J.L. 436, 106 A. 385, and carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Petitioner's plea was accepted by the trial court, as were the similar pleas of Corvino and DeMasi, whose cases are not before us. Petitioner and his two co-defendants were thereupon sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor.

Thereafter, petitioner commenced habeas corpus proceedings in the New Jersey courts, alleging that his plea of non vult was actuated by the existence of the confession, and that the conviction entered upon such plea was

Page 507

vitiated under both the State and Federal Constitutions because the confession was coerced and because it had been taken in derogation of his right to the assistance of counsel. The County Court, the Superior Court, and the Supreme Court of New Jersey in turn denied relief,1 and this Court denied certiorari. 350 U.S. 925. Petitioner then commenced in the District Court for New Jersey the federal habeas corpus proceeding before us attacking his conviction on the grounds stated above. The District Court discharged the writ, holding that petitioner had failed to establish the involuntariness of the confession and that the State's refusal to permit petitioner to communicate with counsel during the police inquiry did not deprive him of due process. Application of Cicenia, 148 F.Supp. 98. The Court of Appeals affirmed, 240 F.2d 844, and we granted certiorari to consider the constitutional questions presented. 354 U.S. 908.2

Page 508

An independent examination of the record satisfies us that the District Court was justified in concluding that petitioner failed to substantiate the charge that his confession was coerced. Petitioner does not now contend to the contrary. He continues to contend, however, that, under the Fourteenth Amendment, [78 S.Ct. 1300] his confession, even though voluntary, was nevertheless vitiated by police refusal to permit him to confer with counsel during his detention at Newark police headquarters, and that, because his plea of non vult was based on the confession, the conviction must fall as well.3

The contention that petitioner had a constitutional right to confer with counsel is disposed of by Crooker v. California, ante, p. 433, decided today. There, we held that California's failure to honor Crooker's request during a period of police interrogation to consult with a lawyer, as yet unretained, did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Because the present case, in which petitioner was...

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