Betts v. Brady

Decision Date01 June 1942
Docket NumberNo. 837,837
Citation316 U.S. 455,86 L.Ed. 1595,62 S.Ct. 1252
PartiesBETTS v. BRADY, Warden
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Jesse Slingluff, Jr., G. Van Velsor Wolf, and William L. Marbury, Jr., all of Baltimore, Md., for petitioner.

Messrs. William C. Walsh, of Baltimore, Md., and Robert E. Clapp, Jr., of Frederick, Md., for respondent.

Mr. Justice ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner was indicted for robbery in the Circuit Court of Carroll County, Maryland. Due to lack of funds he was unable to employ counsel, and so informed the judge at his arraignment. He requested that counsel be appointed for him. The judge advised him that this could not be done as it was not the practice in Carroll County to appoint counsel for indigent defendants save in prosecutions for murder and rape.

Without waiving his asserted right to counsel the petitioner pleaded not guilty and elected to be tried without a jury. At his request witnesses were summoned in his behalf. He cross-examined the State's witnesses and examined his own. The latter gave testimony tending to establish an alibi. Although afforded the opportunity, he did not take the witness stand. The judge found him guilty and imposed a sentence of eight years.

While serving his sentence, the petitioner filed with a judge of the Circuit Court for Washington County, Maryland, a petition for a writ of habeas corpus alleging that he had been deprived of the right to assistance of counsel guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal Constitution. The writ issued, the cause was heard, his contention was rejected, and he was remanded to the custody of the prison warden.

Some months later a petition for a writ of habeas corpus was presented to Hon. Carroll T. Bond, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, setting up the same grounds for the prisoner's release as the former petition. The respondent answered, a hearing was afforded, at which an agreed statement of facts was offered by counsel for the parties, the evidence taken at the petitioner's trial was incorporated in the record, and the cause was argued. Judge Bond granted the writ but, for reasons set forth in an opinion, denied the relief prayed and remanded the petitioner to the respondent's custody.

The petitioner applied to this court for certiorari directed to Judge Bond. The writ was issued on account of the importance of the jurisdictional questions involved and conflicting decisions1 upon the constitutional question presented. In awarding the writ, 315 U.S. 791, 62 S.Ct. 639, 86 L.Ed. —-, we requested counsel to discuss the jurisdiction of this court, 'particularly (1) whether the decision below is that of a court within the meaning of section 2372 of the Judicial Code, and (2) whether state remedies, either by appeal or by application to other judges or any other state court, have bene exhausted.'

1. Sec. 237 of the Judicial Code declares this court competent to review, upon certiorari, 'any cause wherein a final judgment * * * has been rendered * * * by the highest court' of a state 'in which a decision could be had' on a federal question. Was Judge Bond's judgment that of a court within the meaning of the statute? Answer must be made in the light of the applicable law of Maryland.

Art. 4, § 6 of the State Constitution provides: 'All Judges shall by virtue of their offices be Conservators of the Peace throughout the State;' Sec. 1 of Art. 42 of the Public General Laws of Maryland (Flack's 1939 Edition) invests the Court of Appeals and the Chief Judge thereof, the Circuit Courts for the respective counties, and the several judges thereof, the Superior Court of Baltimore City, the Court of Common Pleas of that city, the Circuit Court and Circuit Court No. 2 of Baltimore City, the Baltimore City Court, and the judges of the said courts, out of court, and the Judge of the Court of Appeals from the City of Baltimore, with power to grant writs of habeas corpus and to exercise jurisdiction in all matters pertaining thereto.

Although it is settled that the grant to the Court of Appeals of the power to issue the writ is unconstitutional and void,3 and although the statute does not confer on individual judges of the Court of Appeals the power to issue a writ and proceed thereon, nevertheless, those judges, as conservators of the peace, have the power under the quoted section of the Constitution.4 In any event, Judge Bond is the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals and the judge of that court from the City of Baltimore and, as such, is empowered to act.

Sections 2 to 6, inclusive, 9 to 12 inclusive, and 17 of the statute prescribe the procedure governing the issue of the writ, its service, the return, and the hearing. No question is made but that Judge Bond complied with these provisions. It is, therefore, apparent that in all respects he acted in a judicial capacity and that, in his proper person, he was a judicial tribunal having jurisdiction, upon pleadings and proofs, to hear and to adjudicate the issue of the legality of the petitioner's detention. If Judge Bond had been sitting in term time as a member of a court, clothed with power to act as one of the members of that court, his judgment would be that of a court within the scope of § 237. Doubt that his judgment in the present instance is such arises out of our decision in McKnight v. James, 155 U.S. 685, 15 S.Ct. 248, 39 L.Ed. 310, where we refused to review the denial of a discharge by a judge of an inferior court of Ohio who issued the writ and heard the case at chambers. It appeared that the petitioner had addressed his petition to a judge of the Circuit Court instead of the court itself and that, for this reason, the order of the judge was not reviewable by the Supreme Court of Ohio as it would have been had the writ been addressed to the Circuit Court though heard by a single judge. The petitioner had not exhausted his state remedy since, though he could have obtained a decision by the highest court of the state, he had avoided doing so, and then sought to come to this court directly from the order of the Circuit judge on the theory that that judge's order was the final order of the highest court of the state which could decide his case. In a later decision we referred to this and other cognate cases as deciding that appeals do not lie to this court from orders by judges at chambers,5 but the fundamental reason for denying our jurisdiction was that the appellant had not exhausted state remedies.

In view of what has been said of the power of Judge Bond as a judicial tribunal to hear and finally decide the cause, and of the judicial quality of his action, we are of opinion that his judgment was that of a court within the intendment of Sec. 237.

2. Did the judgment entered comply with the requirement of Sec. 237 that it must be a final judgment rendered by the highest court in which a decision could be had? Again answer must be made in the light of the applicable law of Maryland. The judgment was final in the sense that an order of a Maryland judge in a habeas corpus case, whatever the court to which he belongs, is not reviewable by any other court of Maryland except in specific instances named in statutes which are here inapplicable.6 It is true that the order was not final, and the petitioner has not exhausted state remedies in the sense that in Maryland, as in England, in many of the states, and in the federal courts, a prisoner may apply succes- sively to one judge after another and to one court after another without exhausting his right.7 We think this circumstance does not deny to the judgment in a given case the quality of finality requisite to this court's jurisdiction. Although the judgment is final in the sense that it is not subject to review by any other court of the State, we may, in our discretion, refuse the writ when there is a higher court of the State to which another petition for the relief sought could be addressed,8 but this is not such a case. To hold that, since successive applications to courts and judges of Maryland may be made as of right, the judgment in any case is not final, would be to deny all recourse to this court in such cases.

Since Judge Bond's order was a final disposition by the highest court of Maryland in which a judgment could be had of the issue joined on the instant petition we have jurisdiction to review it.

3. Was the petitioner's conviction and sentence a deprivation of his liberty without due process of law, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, because of the court's refusal to appoint counsel at his request?

The Sixth Amendment of the national Constitution applies only to trials in federal courts.9 The due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not incorporate as such, the specific guarantees found in the Sixth Amendment10 although a denial by a state of rights or privileges specifically embodied in that and others of the first eight amendments may, in certain circumstances, or in connection with other elements, operate, in a given case, to deprive a litigant of due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth.11 Due process of law is secured against invasion by the federal Government by the Fifth Amendment and is safeguarded against state action in identical words by the Fourteenth. The phrase formulates a concept less rigid and more fluid than those envisaged in other specific and particular provisions of the Bill of Rights. Its application is less a matter of rule. Asserted denial is to be tested by an appraisal of the totality of facts in a given case. That which may, in one setting, constitute a denial of fundamental fairness, shocking to the universal sense of justice, may, in other circumstances, and in the light of other considerations, fall short of such denial.12 In the application of such a concept there is always the danger of falling into the habit of formulating the guarantee into a set of hard and fast rules the...

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