469 U.S. 1166 (1985), 83-6865, Vincent v. Louisiana

Docket Nº:No. 83-6865
Citation:469 U.S. 1166, 105 S.Ct. 928, 83 L.Ed.2d 939
Party Name:Harold VINCENT v. LOUISIANA
Case Date:January 14, 1985
Court:United States Supreme Court

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469 U.S. 1166 (1985)

105 S.Ct. 928, 83 L.Ed.2d 939




No. 83-6865

United States Supreme Court.

January 14, 1985

Rehearing Denied March 4, 1985.


[105 S.Ct. 928] On petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The petition for writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice BRENNAN, with whom Justice MARSHALL joins, dissenting.

"There is no higher duty of a court, under our constitutional system, than the careful processing and adjudication of petitions for writs of habeas corpus, for it is in such proceedings that a person in custody charges that error, neglect, or evil purpose has resulted in his unlawful confinement and that he is deprived of his freedom contrary to law." Harris v. Nelson, 394 U.S. 286, 292, 89 S.Ct. 1082, 1087, 22 L.Ed.2d 281 (1969). Because the proceedings in this case have fallen intolerably short of fulfilling this duty, and because this Court must be vigilant in ensuring that lower courts do not improperly cut corners in administering the Great Writ, I respectfully dissent from the Court's denial of certiorari.


The petitioner Harold Vincent was convicted in 1974 of armed robbery and second-degree murder by a jury in Vernon Parish, Louisiana. Vincent's trial had been delayed for over two years while he underwent evaluation and treatment for schizophrenia. This mental illness was so severe that psychiatrists at the Louisiana State Penitentiary General Hospital had certified that Vincent did not meet the constitutional standard of triability in that he could neither "realiz[e] the nature of the charges against him" nor properly "assist his attorney." 1 Record 17, 18. After intensive treatment with psychotropic drugs, particularly Thorazine, these psychiatrists notified the trial court that, so long as Vincent remained on his regulated dosage, he would have the mental capacity to proceed with trial. Id., at 18. They emphasized at Vincent's pretrial sanity hearing that Vincent was dependent on Thorazine and that it was "almost a sure thing" that he would [105 S.Ct. 929] revert to episodes of psychosis if he stopped taking the medication. Id., at 64; see also id., at 20-23.

According to Vincent's subsequent habeas petition, which Vincent prepared with the assistance of an inmate paralegal:

"On July 6, 1974, petitioner was transferred from the Louisiana State Penitentiary to Vernon Parish without any of his medication. Petitioner immediately inquired with Vernon Parish officials about his

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medication, but no one seemed to know anything about it. Consequently, on the morning trial was scheduled to commence, petitioner intentionally cut his leg to get to the hospital to see someone about receiving some Thorozine [sic]. When he appeared in court with his pants leg rolled up and a rag wrapped around his lower leg, petitioner's mother and sisters became upset and rushed to talk with him. After petitioner told them the reason he cut his leg, they talked with petitioner's trial attorneys, William E. Tilley and Chris Smith, III, concerning the likelihood of petitioner receiving some Thorozine [sic]. Petitioner's attorneys brought the matter to the attention of the trial court, and after a few preliminary motions were argued, Judge Terrell ordered Vernon Parish officials to bring petitioner to the hospital.

"Petitioner was taken to the Leesville General Hospital where his leg was bandaged and he was given a shot. Petitioner explained his condition to the doctor that treated him, but was informed that it was against hospital regulations to prescribe Thorozine [sic] to him. Petitioner was returned to the courthouse for continuation of the proceedings against him. Throughout his trial ... petitioner was without his prescribed medication, Thorozine [sic]. He was convicted as charged and ... sentenced to a term of life imprisonment." Id., at 9-10.

Vincent claimed that, as a result of this alleged deprivation of Thorazine, he was "mentally incompetent" during the trial in that he was unable "to maintain his ability to consult with his attorney and understand the proceedings against him." Id., at 10.

After Vincent filed his federal habeas petition, the District Court ordered the State to submit a response. Ten months passed before the State, prompted by the court's threat summarily to grant the petition, see id., at 36, finally filed an answer. The State denied Vincent's material allegations and, in the alternative, asserted that "[a]ssuming the facts to be as alleged by the defendant he knew exactly what he was doing in an attempt to get the medication that he desired" and thereby manifested his competence. Id., at 44-45, 57.

Without holding an evidentiary hearing or otherwise inquiring into the merits of Vincent's allegations beyond reviewing the trial

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record, the District Court summarily dismissed the petition. Id., at 64-65. The court reasoned that "[t]he alleged lack of Thorazine, the alleged self mutilation, and the alleged trip to the hospital were occurances [sic] that were never brought to the trial Judge's attention and are not reflected in the transcript record"; that the medical testimony concerning Vincent's likely relapse in the absence of his medication pertained "to the time of the offense and not at the time of the trial"; and that Vincent's counsel had not raised the issue at trial or on direct review. Ibid. "In short, there is nothing in the record, beyond the defendant's assertion, of any lack of medication or the adverse effects from the lack therefrom." Id., at 64. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed in a brief unpublished order, reasoning that Vincent's "proof" did not "reach the level required" to secure habeas relief. Id., at 86.

[105 S.Ct. 930] II

There can be no doubt that, if Vincent was in fact deprived of his Thorazine during trial and this deprivation rendered him incompetent to stand trial, he is entitled to have his conviction vacated. "[T]he conviction of an accused person while he is legally incompetent violates due process," Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 378, 86 S.Ct. 836, 838, 15 L.Ed.2d 815 (1966), and a petitioner is not barred from raising this issue by his failure to have challenged his competence at trial, id., at 384, 86 S.Ct., at 841. 1 See also Drope v. Missouri, 420 U.S. 162, 95 S.Ct. 896, 43 L.Ed.2d 103 (1975); Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402, 80 S.Ct. 788, 4 L.Ed.2d 824 (1960); Bishop v. United States, 350 U.S. 961, 76 S.Ct. 440, 100 L.Ed. 835 (1956). Yet the Court today refuses to disturb the lower courts' summary dismissal of Vincent's petition for failure of proof even though Vincent has never been accorded an opportunity to adduce evidence in support of his allegations. This result is squarely at odds with our precedents, with 28 U.S.C. § 2254, and with the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts.

Where a habeas petition sets forth "specific and detailed factual assertions" that, if true, would entitle the petitioner to relief, the court must ensure the full development of the relevant facts. Machibroda v. United States, 368 U.S. 487, 496, 82 S.Ct. 510, 514, 7 L.Ed.2d 473 (1962); see also

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Harris v. Nelson, 394 U.S., at 300, 89 S.Ct., at 1091. "Where the facts are in dispute, the federal court in habeas corpus must...

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