Hawkins v. Robinson

Decision Date21 November 1973
Docket NumberCiv. No. 15700.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
PartiesPerry HAWKINS v. Carl ROBINSON, Warden, Connecticut Correctional Institution.

John L. Hayes, Hartford, Conn., for plaintiff.

Arlen Nickowitz, Asst. State's Atty., Bridgeport, Conn., for defendant.


BLUMENFELD, Chief Judge.

Petitioner is presently incarcerated in the Connecticut Correctional Institution at Somers where he is serving a sentence of seven to ten years pursuant to a judgment of conviction in Fairfield County Superior Court for unlawful sale of heroin (then §§ 8 and 36(a) of Public Acts 1967, No. 555, now Conn.Gen.Stats. §§ 19-452 and 19-480(a), as amended).


The following facts are not in dispute. At his trial on February 13, 1969, petitioner was identified by Francisco Guzman, an agent of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, as the man who sold him two glassine envelopes of heroin on June 7, 1968, while he was parked behind the Midway Diner in Stamford. Guzman, who was not a resident of the area and had never seen petitioner before, based his identification on two encounters with the seller during a fifteen minute period, one lasting a "couple of moments" and the other "roughly about a minute more or less." (Tr., p. 7). During the first encounter, Guzman asked to purchase two bags of heroin. During the second and more critical episode the seller stuck both his hands inside Guzman's car window, opened his left hand to reveal two glassine envelopes containing a quantity of white powder, took the $12 which Guzman offered, and handed Guzman the envelopes. (Tr., pp. 3-4).

The only other witness who testified about the sale was Detective Edward McNulty of the Stamford Police Department, who stated that he was in a car approximately one hundred yards away when the seller first spoke to Agent Guzman, and that he witnessed the sale from a distance of some forty yards. At that time an automobile was parked between him and Guzman's car. (Tr., p. 15). When Detective McNulty was then asked whether Guzman was with anyone, he answered, "With an informant." Defense counsel then asked for the informant's name, the state's attorney objected, and the objection was sustained by the trial judge. (Tr., pp. 16-17).

Petitioner presented an alibi defense, introducing testimony and exhibits tending to show that he was in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on the day of the sale.

On appeal, petitioner attempted to argue that the trial judge's ruling upholding the prosecutor's objection to disclosure of the informant's name was erroneous. He relied heavily on Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53, 77 S.Ct. 623, 1 L.Ed.2d 639 (1957), in which the United States Supreme Court held that "the fundamental requirements of fairness" require that an informant's identity must be disclosed when such disclosure "is relevant and helpful to the defense of an accused, or is essential to a fair determination of a cause," id. at 60-61, 77 S.Ct. at 628, and that failure of the trial judge to order such disclosure upon request of the defendant at his trial is reversible error. However, the Connecticut Supreme Court refused to entertain the petitioner's claim of error, stating that no constitutional issue was before it, because petitioner's trial counsel had not objected in the manner established by § 226 of the Connecticut Practice Book.1 State v. Hawkins, 162 Conn. 514, 294 A.2d 584 (1972), cert. denied 409 U.S. 984, 93 S.Ct. 332, 34 L. Ed.2d 249.

Petitioner now seeks a writ of habeas corpus in this court, asserting that as a matter of due process of law he was entitled to the name of the informant. Before deciding that question, however, it is necessary to consider whether petitioner has properly exhausted his state court remedies, as required by 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b).


The Judicial Code, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b), requires that a state prisoner seeking a federal writ of habeas corpus must first demonstrate that he "has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State, or that there is either an absence of available State corrective process or the existence of circumstances rendering such process ineffective to protect the rights of the prisoner."

Petitioner's appeal brief for the Connecticut Supreme Court indicates that he squarely raised the issue of nondisclosure of the informant's identity: indeed, it was the only issue he raised on appeal. "Since the petitioner raised this issue on direct appeal, no further state court proceedings were necessary for him to exhaust his state remedies, and the case is now ready for federal court action." United States ex rel. West v. LaVallee, 335 F.2d 230, 231 (2d Cir. 1964).2

The fact that the Connecticut Supreme Court refused to consider his argument on the merits does not prevent petitioner from applying to this Court for relief. "The state courts need not have decided the merits of the claims raised by the applicant in the state courts in order for him to be considered to have exhausted his state court remedies. United States ex rel. Meadows v. State of New York, 426 F.2d 1176, 1179 n. 1 (2d Cir. 1970), cert. denied 401 U.S. 941, 91 S.Ct. 944, 28 L.Ed.2d 222 (1971).3

Accordingly, I hold that petitioner has adequately exhausted his state remedies.


The central question in this case is raised by the Connecticut Supreme Court's interpretation of Roviaro v. United States, supra, in State v. Harris, supra. The United States Supreme Court in Roviaro held that the "fundamental requirements of fairness" dictate the disclosure of an informant's identity in certain circumstances, 353 U.S. at 60-61, 77 S.Ct. 623, but nowhere in the opinion did the Court explicitly state that such disclosure was required by a specific provision of the Constitution. As noted above, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that Roviaro dealt with "federal rules rather than constitutional rights." 159 Conn. at 527, 271 A.2d at 77. It relied upon McCray v. Illinois, 386 U.S. 300, 87 S.Ct. 1056, 18 L. Ed.2d 62 (1967), in which the United States Supreme Court discussed its holding in Roviaro in connection with the formulation of "evidentiary rules for federal criminal trials." Id. at 311, 87 S.Ct. at 1062. An issue crucial to petitioner's case is thus presented: if disclosure of the informant's identity under the circumstances discussed in Roviaro is solely a matter of enforcement of "evidentiary rules for federal criminal trials," then the ruling of the trial judge was at best an error on a question of evidence, and the failure of the trial judge to order such disclosure does not rise to the level of a constitutional ground upon which petitioner may apply to this Court for a writ of habeas corpus. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). If, on the other hand, the disclosure of the informant's identity required in Roviaro and sought at petitioner's trial was dictated by constitutional requirements, then petitioner's constitutional rights may have been violated.4 Not every evidentiary ruling rises to the magnitude of a constitutional issue. See Wilson v. MacDougall, Civil No. 13,815 (D.Conn. June 19, 1970). And, as in California v. Green, 399 U.S. 149, 155, 90 S.Ct. 1930, 26 L. Ed.2d 489 (1970), the Court's task in this case is not to determine the soundness of a rule of evidence, but rather to ascertain whether an individual's constitutional rights were violated. For courts to determine the applicability of a rule by mere labeling without any examination of the policies dictating the choice of one label rather than another would seem to be unwise. We thus turn to an analysis of the basis for the disclosure requirement.

Beginning with the Supreme Court's opinion in Roviaro, it is evident at the outset that the words which the Court used therein — "the fundamental requirements of fairness" — have long connoted a specifically constitutional guarantee. "As applied to a criminal trial, denial of due process is the failure to observe that fundamental fairness essential to the very concept of justice." Lisenba v. California, 314 U.S. 219, 236, 62 S.Ct. 280, 290, 86 L.Ed. 166 (1941).5 As Mr. Justice Rehnquist recently noted, speaking for the majority in Ham v. South Carolina, 409 U.S. 524, 93 S.Ct. 848, 35 L.Ed.2d 46, 50 (1973), "One of the purposes of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is to insure . . . `essential demands of fairness.'"

Few courts which have applied the Roviaro holding have expressed opinions as to whether the foundation for the requirement of disclosure at trial may be found in the requirements of the Constitution or in the power of the Supreme Court to prescribe evidentiary rules for the lower federal courts. In this circuit, for example, after Roviaro was announced, the disclosure requirement was often acknowledged but seldom subjected to close analysis.6 In United States v. D'Angiolillo, 340 F.2d 453, 455 (2d Cir. 1965), cert. denied 380 U.S. 955, 85 S.Ct. 1090, 13 L.Ed.2d 972, Chief Judge Lumbard in reasoned dictum summarized the case law and actually expanded on the requirements of Roviaro in stating the governing rule for this circuit:

"The rule emerging from these and earlier decisions is that, where the informer's testimony may be relevant to the defense, the defendant is entitled to his name, to such information as the government may have concerning his whereabouts, and to reasonable co-operation in securing his appearance." (footnote omitted). 340 F.2d at 455.

It is evident, also, that other federal courts have assumed that the requirement of disclosure in particular circumstances is rooted in the constitutional guarantee of a "fundamentally fair" trial. See Burwell v. Teets, 245 F.2d 154, 165 (9th Cir. 1957), cert. denied 355 U.S. 896, 78 S.Ct. 271, 2 L.Ed.2d 194, reh'g denied 355 U.S. 928, 78 S.Ct. 385, 2 L.Ed.2d 358 (1958); United States v. Emory, 468 F.2d 1017, 1020-1021 (8th Cir. 1972); United States...

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  • Rice v. Wolff
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit
    • February 19, 1975
    ...supra; Francisco v. Gathright, supra; Losieau v. Sigler, supra; Smith v. Peyton, 413 F.2d 760 (4th Cir. 1969); Hawkins v. Robinson, 367 F.Supp. 1025 (D.Conn.1973). Cf. United States ex rel. Condon v. Erickson, 459 F.2d 663 (8th Cir. Finally, we reach the argument to which the State devotes ......
  • Ralls v. Manson
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    • U.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
    • May 7, 1974
    ...426 F. 2d 1176, 1179 n. 1 (2d Cir. 1970), cert. denied 401 U.S. 941, 91 S.Ct. 944, 28 L. Ed.2d 222 (1971). See Hawkins v. Robinson, 367 F.Supp. 1025, 1029 (D.Conn. 1973). However, the petitioner must have presented to the state courts the same claims which he subsequently urges upon the fed......
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    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York
    • September 14, 1976
    ...States ex rel. Drew v. Myers, 327 F.2d 174 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 379 U.S. 847, 85 S.Ct. 88, 13 L.Ed.2d 52 (1964); Hawkins v. Robinson, 367 F.Supp. 1025 (D.Conn.1973); Hernandez v. Nelson, 298 F.Supp. 682 (N.D.Cal.1968), aff'd, 411 F.2d 619 (9th Cir. 1969). On the other hand, the Sixth Ci......
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    • May 17, 2018
    ...determining when disclosure of the informant's identity is 'relevant and helpful to the defense of the accused.'" Hawkins v. Robinson, 367 F. Supp. 1025, 1035 (D. Conn. 1973). Roviaro was "a case where the Government's informer was the sole participant, other than the accused, in the transa......
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