Heflin v. United States

Citation3 L.Ed.2d 407,79 S.Ct. 451,358 U.S. 415
Decision Date24 February 1959
Docket NumberNo. 137,137
PartiesLurton Lewis HEFLIN, Jr., Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES of America
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Mr. Jerome A. Cooper, Birmingham, Ala., for petitioner.

Mr. Theodore G. Gilinsky, Sioux City, Iowa, for respondent.

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner and two others were indicted and convicted under three counts charging violations of the Federal Bank Robbery Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2113, 18 U.S.C.A. § 2113. One count charged taking the property by force and violence, and assaulting and jeopardizing the lives of several persons in the course of the taking, in violation of § 2113(d).1 Another count charged that they did 'receive, possess, conceal, store, and dispose' of the stolen money in violation of § 2113(c).2 A third count charged a conspiracy. The sentence imposed3 was 10 years on the first count mentioned above, 3 years on the conspiracy count to begin to run on expiration of the first, and 1 year and 1 day on the count charging receipt of the stolen property, this sentence to begin to run on expiration of the sentence on the conspiracy count.

All these events took place before our decision in Prince v. United States, 352 U.S. 322, 77 S.Ct. 403, 1 L.Ed.2d 370. Shortly thereafter petitioner instituted this proceeding under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, 28 U.S.C.A. § 2255,4 complaining that he could not be lawfully convicted under both subsections (c) and (d) of § 2113, i.e., of feloniously receiving and feloniously taking the same property. The District Court denied the motion. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 251 F.2d 69. We granted certiorari (357 U.S. 935, 78 S.Ct. 1388, 2 L.Ed.2d 1550) because of an apparent conflict between that decision and the Prince case.

I. There is a preliminary question of jurisdiction. Petitioner is now in custody under the 10-year sentence which admittedly is valid. Since he has not completed that sentence nor the consecutive conspiracy sentence, it is argued that relief by way of § 2255 may not be had.

We reviewed in United States v. Hayman, 342 U.S. 205, 72 S.Ct. 263, 96 L.Ed. 232, the history of § 2255 and emphasized that its purpose was to minimize some of the difficulties involved in the use of habeas corpus. It is now argued that when con- secutive sentences are imposed, § 2255, no more than habeas corpus (McNally v. Hill, 293 U.S. 131, 138, 55 S.Ct. 24, 27, 79 L.Ed. 238), can be used to question a sentence which the prisoner has not begun to serve. The Court is divided on that issue. Some think that when § 2255 says 'A motion for such relief may be made at any time.' it means what it says. To them the correction of sentence, if made, will affect 'the right to be released,' protected by § 2255, even though that right will not be immediately realized. A majority, however, are of the view, shared by several Courts of Appeals,5 that § 2255 is available only to attack a sentence under which a prisoner is in custody. Yet in their view relief under Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, 18 U.S.C.A.6 is available (at least where matters dehors the record are not involved), the only question here being whether the sentence imposed was illegal on its face.7

II. We held in Prince v. United States, supra, that the crime of entry into a bank with intent to rob was not intended by Congress to be a separate offense from the consummated robbery. We ruled that entering with intent to steal, which is 'the heart of the crime,' id., 352 U.S. at page 328, 77 S.Ct. at page 407, 'merges into the completed crime if the robbery is consummated.' Ibid. We gave the Act that construction because we resolve an ambiguity in favor of lenity when required to determine the intent of Congress in punishing multiple aspects of the same criminal act.

Subsection (c) of § 2113, with which we are now primarily concerned, came into the law in 1940. The legislative history is meagre. The Senate Report (S.Rep.No.1801, 76th Cong., 3d Sess.) is captioned 'Punishment for Receivers of Loot From Bank Robbers.' The Report states, 'This bill would add another subsection to further make it a crime, with less severe penalties (maximum $5,000 fine and 10 years imprisonment, or both) to willfully become a receiver or possessor of property taken in violation of the statute,' p. 1. Similarly the House Report states 'Present law does not make it a separate substantive offense knowingly to receive or possess property stolen from a bank in violation of the Federal Bank Robbery Act, and this bill is designed to cover the omission.' H.R.Rep.No.1668, 76th Cong., 3d Sess., p. 1.

This clue to the purpose of Congress argues strongly against the position of the Government. From these Reports it seems clear that subsection (c) was not designed to increase the punishment for him who robs a bank but only to provide punishment for those who receive the loot from the robber. We find no purpose of Congress to pyramid penalties for lesser offenses following the robbery. It may be true that in logic those who divide up the loot following a robbery receive form robbers and thus multiply the offense. But in view of the legislative hs- tory of subsection (c) we think Congress was trying to reach a new group of wrongdoers, not to multiply the offense of the bank robbers themselves.


Mr. Justice STEWART, whom Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER, Mr. Justice CLARK, Mr. Justice HARLAN, and Mr. Justice WHITTAKER join, concurring.

While joining the Court's opinion, I think it clear that a motion for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, 28 U.S.C.A. § 2255 is available only to attack a sentence under which a prisoner is in custody. That is what the statute says. That is what the legislative history shows. That is what federal courts, faced almost daily with the statute's application, have unanimously concluded. Personal notions as to the kind of a post-conviction statute that Congress might have enacted or should enact are, of course, entirely irrelevant to the inquiry.

First. The words which Congress has used are not ambiguous. Section 2255 provides that: 'A prisoner in custody under sentence * * * claiming the right to be released * * * may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.' The statute further provides: 'A motion for such relief may be mad at any time.' This latter provision simply means that, as in habeas corpus, there is no statute of limitations, no res judicata, and that the doctrine of laches is inapplicable.

Second. The legislative history of § 2255 is reviewed at length in the opinion which Mr. Chief Justice Vinson wrote for the Court in United States v. Hayman, 342 U.S. 205, 72 S.Ct. 263, 96 L.Ed. 232. No chronicle of the genesis and purpose of a legislative enactment could be more authentic, because almost the entire legislative history is to be found in the deliberations and recommendations of the Judicial Con- ference of the United States, over which Mr. Chief Justice Vinson then presided. The opinion in Hayman clearly shows that, 'the sole purpose' of the statute 'was to minimize the difficulties encountered in habeas corpus hearings by affording the same rights in another and more convenient forum.' 342 U.S. at page 219, 72 S.Ct. at page 272. Those difficulties are detailed in the opinion. There is not one word to indicate any intent to alter the basic principle of habeas corpus that relief is available only to one entitled to be released from custody.

The very office of the Great Writ, its only function, is to inquire into the legality of the detention of one in custody. It is unnecessary to paraphrase here Mr. Justice Stone's penetrating discussion in McNally v. Hill, 293 U.S. 131, 55 S.Ct. 24, 79 L.Ed. 238, or to incorporate the thorough review of legal history there contained. It will suffice to note only the Court's conclusion: 'Without restraint of liberty, the writ will not issue. * * * Equally, without restraint which is unlawful, the writ may not be used. A sentence which the prisoner has not begun to serve cannot be the cause of restraint which the statute makes the subject of inquiry.' (Citations omitted.) 293 U.S. at page 138, 55 S.Ct. at page 27.

Third. It is something of an understatement simply to say that these views are 'shared by several Courts of Appeals.' So far as I have been able to find, these courts, at least since the Hayman decision, have been unanimous in holding that a motion under § 2255 may be filed only by a prisoner claiming the right to be released. These are the courts continually faced with problems arising under § 2255, and many of them have given careful consideration to this very issue. United States v. Bradford, 2 Cir., 194 F.2d 197; United States v. McGann, 2 Cir., 245 F.2d 670; United States ex rel. Bogish v. Tees, 3 Cir., 211 F.2d 69, 71; Fooshee v. United States, 5 Cir., 203 F.2d 247; Duggins v. United States, 6 Cir., 240 F.2d 479; Juelich v. United States, 6 Cir., 257 F.2d 424; Oughton v. United States, 9 Cir., 215 F.2d 578; Williams v. United States, 9 Cir., 236 F.2d 894; Hoffman v. United States, 9 Cir., 244 F.2d 378; Toliver v. United States, 9 Cir., 249 F.2d 804; Miller v. United States, 9 Cir., 256 F.2d 501; Smith v. United States, 9 Cir., 259 F.2d 125.

Although believing that relief in this case was not available under § 2255, I think, and indeed the Government concedes, that relief was available to the petitioner by virtue of Rule 35 of the Fed.Rules Crim.Proc. That rule provides: 'The court may correct an illegal sentence at any time.' The rule became effective more than two years before the enactment of § 2255 and has an entirely different history. It was a codification of existing law and was intended to remove any doubt created by the decision in United States v. Mayer, 235 U.S. 55, 67, 35 S.Ct. 16, 18, 59 L.Ed. 129, as to the jurisdiction of a District Court to correct an illegal sentence after the expiration of the term at which...

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