Case v. State of Nebraska, 843

Citation14 L.Ed.2d 422,381 U.S. 336,85 S.Ct. 1486
Decision Date24 May 1965
Docket NumberNo. 843,843
PartiesPaul V. CASE, Petitioner, v. STATE OF NEBRASKA
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Daniel J. Meador, Charlottesville, Va., for petitioner.

Melvin Kent Kammerlohr, Lincoln, Neb., for the State of Neb.


Petitioner sought a writ of habeas corpus in the District Court for Lancaster County, Nebraska, alleging that he was unconstitutionally denied the assistance of counsel when he entered a plea of guilty in that court to a charge of burglary. The trial court dismissed the petition without a hearing, and filed no opinion. The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed. 177 Neb. 404, 129 N.W.2d 107. The Supreme Court's opinion recognized that petitioner's allegations, if true, would establish a violation of the Federal Constitution. 177 Neb., at 410, 129 N.W.2d, at 111. The Supreme Court held, however, that, in Nebraska 'Habeas corpus is not available to discharge a prisoner from a sentence of penal servitude if the court imposing it had jurisdiction of the offense and of the person charged with the crime, and the sentence was within the power of the court.' 177 Neb., at 412, 129 N.W.2d, at 112. We granted certiorari, 379 U.S. 958, 85 S.Ct. 672, 13 L.Ed.2d 554, to decide whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires that the States afford state prisoners some adequate corrective process for the hearing and determination of claims of violation of federal constitutional guarantees.

After certiorari was granted, the Nebraska Legislature enacted a statute providing a postconviction procedure. Neb.Leg. Bill 836, Seventy-fifth Session, effective April 12, 1965. On its face, the statute provides for a hearing of petitions such as this one, alleging denial of federal constitutional rights. Therefore, the judgment is vacated and the cause remanded to the Nebraska Supreme Court for reconsideration in light of the supervening statute.

It is so ordered.

Judgment vacated and cause remanded.

Mr. Justice CLARK, concurring.

As the Court points out, we granted certiorari in this case 'to decide whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires that the States afford state prisoners some adequate corrective process for the hearing and determination of claims of violation of federal constitutional guarantees.' Happily, Nebraska in the interim has adopted just such a procedure thus obviating the necessity of our passing upon the question.

It should be pointed out, however, that as early as 1949 this Court in Young v. Ragen, 337 U.S. 235, 69 S.Ct. 1073, 93 L.Ed. 1333, articulated the principle that the States must afford prisoners some 'clearly defined method by which they may raise claims of denial of federal rights.' Id., at 239, 69 S.Ct., at 1074, 93 L.Ed. 1333. But compare Mooney v. Holohan, 294 U.S. 103, 55 S.Ct. 340, 79 L.Ed. 791 (1935). In stating that proposition the Court noted: 'The doctrine of exhaustion of state remedies, to which this Court has required the scrupulous adherence of all federal courts * * * presupposes that some adequate state remedy exists. We recognize the difficulties with which the Illinois Supreme Court is faced in adapting available state procedures to (this) requirement * * *. Nevertheless, that requirement must be met.' Young v. Ragen, supra, at 238—239, 69 S.Ct. at 1074—1075.

Thereafter, the Illinois Post-Conviction Hearing Act was adopted.1 It was followed by passage of a statute in North Carolina in 1951 which was 'modeled' on the Illinois Act.2 Miller v. State, 237 N.C. 29, 51, 74 S.E.2d 513, 528 (1953). Nebraska is the seventh State to adopt such a statute since Young v. Ragen, supra.3 There exists in some States a wide variety of procedural techniques that have been used to deal with due process attacks on criminal convictions, i.e., basic common-law remedies such as habeas corpus, coram nobis and delayed motions for new trial. But the great variations in the scope and availability of such remedies result in their being entirely inadequate.

As a consequence there has been a tremendous increase in habeas corpus applications in federal courts. Indeed, in the Supreme Court alone they have increased threefold in the last 15 years. This has brought about much public agitation and debate over proposed limitations of the habeas corpus jurisdiction of federal courts. The necessity for such proposals has been based on various grounds, including that of federal-state comity; inordinate delay in the administration of criminal justice in the state courts; and the heavy burden on the federal judiciary. None of these will survive careful scrutiny.

Strangely enough there has been little light thrown on the necessity for more effective postconviction remedies in the State. In 1958 the Burton Committee 4 reported out a preliminary draft of findings in which it stated

'that the law of state post-conviction process in many states was wholly inadequate to cope with the demands now being placed upon it. In some jurisdictions prisoners were altogether precluded from direct access to the courts. (Cochran v. State of Kansas, 316 U.S. 255, 62 S.Ct. 1068, 86 L.Ed. 1453 (1942); Dowd v. United States ex rel. Cook, 340 U.S. 206, 71 S.Ct. 262, 95 L.Ed. 215 (1951).) * * * In many more, the procedures recognized by state law failed to provide genuine opportunities for testing constitutional issues of the most numerous and important types. The result was that prisoners often failed to obtain hearings on their allegations in the state courts. This, in turn, increased the number of petitions in state and federal courts and was generally productive of frustrations in all persons concerned with the process.'5

Believing that the practical answer to the problem is the enactment by the several States of postconviction remedy statutes I applaud the action of Nebraska. This will enable prisoners to 'air out' their claims in the state courts and will stop the rising conflict presently being generated between federal and state courts. This has proven true in Illinois where it is reported that federal applications from state prisoners dropped considerably after its Act was adopted. I understand that the Illinois Legislature is now considering the enlargement of the five-year limitations period of its present Act to a 20-year period. The consensus is that this will solve the problem entirely in Illinois, which was originally the 'sore spot' of the Nation in this regard.

I hope that the various States will follow the lead of Illinois, Nebraska, Maryland, North Carolina, Maine, Oregon and Wyoming in providing this modern procedure for testing federal claims in the state courts and thus relieve the federal courts of this ever-increasing burden.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN, concurring.

The petitioner entered his plea of guilty on April 18, 1963, one month after this Court's decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 83 S.Ct. 792, 9 L.Ed.2d 799, holding the Sixth Amendment guarantee of counsel applicable to state prosecutions by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment.1 The Nebraska Supreme Court followed prior Nebraska decisions in holding that, in a habeas corpus action brought by a convicted prisoner, judicial inquiry is limited to the jurisdiction of the convicting court over the offense and over the person of the accused, and to the question whether the sentence imposed was within the power of the court.2 The State conceded in its response to the petition for certiorari that habeas corpus was unavailable to hear petitioner's claim and that petitioner had no other remedy in the state courts.3

On oral argument, counsel appointed for petitioner, see 379 U.S. 995, 85 S.Ct. 722, conceded the relevancy of the new Nebraska postconviction procedure,4 but contended that petitioner was nevertheless entitled to a declaration that he had been unconstitutionally denied a hearing by the Nebraska courts, and to a reversal of the judgment of the Nebraska Supreme Court and a mandate directing that by some procedure the petitioner's claim be adequately adjudicated.5

Petitioner concedes that the Court's practice has been to remit prisoners to their federal habeas corpus remedy. See, e.g., Jennings v. Illinois, 342 U.S. 104, 72 S.Ct. 123, 96 L.Ed. 119. But he con- tends that substituting federal for state corrective process, instead of directing the State itself to meet its obligation, is a disservice to sound principles of federalism.6 He points to the vast increase in the number of federal habeas corpus applications by state prisoners as evidence that lack of adequate state procedures has put an intolerable strain on the federal writ and has brought about mounting friction between state and federal courts. See Henry v. State of Mississippi, 379 U.S. 443, 453, 85 S.Ct. 564, 570. In short, he contends that if the evolution in the coverage of the Fourteenth Amendment and in the scope of federal habeas corpus, see Fay v. Noia 372 U.S. 391, 83 S.Ct. 822, 9 L.Ed.2d 837, is not to pull the federal judiciary increasingly into state criminal administration, the States must provide broader procedures more hospitable to federal constitutional claims.

The desirability of minimizing the necessity for resort by state prisoners to federal habeas corpus is not to be denied. Our federal system entrusts the States with primary responsibility for the administration of their criminal laws. The Fourteenth Amendment and the Supremacy Clause make requirements of fair and just procedures an integral part of those laws, and state procedures should ideally include adequate administration of these guarantees as well. 7 If, by effective processes the States assumed this burden, the exhaustion requirement of 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (1958 ed.) would clearly promote state primacy in the implementation of these guarantees. Of greater importance, it would assure not only that meritorious claims would generally be vindicated without any need for federal court intervention, but that nonmeritorious claims would be fully ventilated,...

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