368 U.S. 52 (1961), 32, Hamilton v. Alabama

Docket Nº:No. 32
Citation:368 U.S. 52, 82 S.Ct. 157, 7 L.Ed.2d 114
Party Name:Hamilton v. Alabama
Case Date:November 13, 1961
Court:United States Supreme Court

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368 U.S. 52 (1961)

82 S.Ct. 157, 7 L.Ed.2d 114




No. 32

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 13, 1961

Argued October 17, 1961



In Alabama, arraignment is a critical stage in a criminal proceeding, because only then may the defense of insanity be pleaded and pleas in abatement or motions challenging the composition of the grand jury be made. Petitioner was arraigned without counsel in Alabama for a capital offense, to which he pleaded not guilty, and subsequently he was convicted and sentenced to death.

Held: Absence of counsel for petitioner at the time of his arraignment violated his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 52-55.

271 Ala. 88, 122 So.2d 602, reversed.

DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a capital case, petitioner having been sentenced to death on a count of an indictment charging breaking and entering a dwelling at night with intent to ravish.1 Petitioner appealed, claiming he had been denied counsel at the time of arraignment. The Alabama Supreme Court, although stating that the right to counsel under the State and Federal Constitutions included the right to

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counsel at the time of arraignment, did not reach the merits of the claim because to do so would require impeaching the minute entries at the trial,2 which may not be done in Alabama on an appeal. 270 Ala. 184, 116 So.2d 906. When petitioner sought certiorari here, Alabama responded saying that his remedy to attack the judgment with extrinsic evidence was by way of coram nobis. We denied certiorari. 363 U.S. 852.

Petitioner thereupon proceeded by way of coram nobis in the Alabama courts. The Supreme Court of Alabama, while recognizing that petitioner had a right under state law, 15 Ala.Code § 318, to be represented by counsel at the time of his arraignment, denied relief because there was no showing or effort to show that petitioner was "disadvantaged in any way by the absence of counsel3 when he interposed his plea of not guilty." 271 Ala. 88, 93, 122 So.2d 602, 607. The case is here on certiorari, 364 U.S. 931.

Arraignment under Alabama law is a critical stage in a criminal proceeding. It is then that the defense of insanity must be pleaded (15 Ala.Code § 423), or the opportunity is lost. Morrell v. State, 136 Ala. 44, 34 So. 208. Thereafter, that plea may not be made except in the discretion of the trial judge, and his refusal to accept it is "not revisable" on appeal. Rohn v. State, 186 Ala. 5, 8, 65 So. 42, 43. Cf. Garrett v. State, 248 Ala. 612, 614-615, 29 So.2d 8, 9. Pleas in abatement must also be made at the time of arraignment. 15 Ala.Code § 279. It is then

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that motions to quash based on systematic exclusion of one race from grand juries (Reeves v. State, 264 Ala. 476, 88 So.2d 561), or on the ground that the grand jury was otherwise improperly drawn (Whitehead v. State, 206 Ala. 288, 90 So. 351), must be made.

Whatever may be the function and importance of arraignment in other jurisdictions,4 we have said enough to show that, in Alabama, it is [82 S.Ct. 159] a critical stage in a criminal proceeding. What happens there may affect the whole trial. Available defenses may be as irretrievably lost, if not then and there asserted, as they are when an accused represented by counsel waives a right for strategic purposes. Cf. Canizio v. New York, 327 U.S. 82, 85-86. In ...

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