Mooney v. Holohan

Citation294 U.S. 103,98 A.L.R. 406,79 L.Ed. 791,55 S.Ct. 340
PartiesMOONEY v. HOLOHAN, Warden of San Quentin Penitentiary. * No. ____
Decision Date21 January 1935
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Messrs. Frank P. Walsh, of New York City, John F. Finerty, of Washington, D.C., and George T. Davis, of San Francisco, Cal., for petitioner.

Mr. U.S. Webb, Atty. Gen., of California, for the State of California.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 104-108 intentionally omitted]


Thomas J. Mooney asks leave to file petition for an original writ of habeas corpus. He states that he is unlawfully restrained of his liberty by the state of California under a commitment pursuant to a conviction, in February, 1917, of murder in the first degree and sentence of death subsequently commuted to life imprisonment. He submits the record of proceedings set forth in his petition for a writ of habeas corpus presented to the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of California and dismissed upon the ground that the petitioner had not exhausted his legal remedies in the state court. 7 F.Supp. 385. Applications to the judges of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for allowance of an appeal to that court from the judgment of dismissal have severally been denied. In re Mooney, 72 F.(2d) 503.

Petitioner charges that the state holds him in confinement without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. The grounds of his charge are, in substance, that the sole basis of his conviction was perjured testimony, which was knowingly used by the prosecuting authorities in order to obtain that conviction, and also that these authorities deliberately suppressed evidence which would have impeached and refuted the testimony thus given against him. He alleges that he could not be reasonable diligence have discovered prior to the denial of his motion for a new trial, and his appeal to the Supreme Court of the state, the evidence which was subsequently developed and which proved the testimony against him to have been perjured. Petitioner urges that the 'knowing use' by the statute of perjured testimony to obtain the conviction and the deliberate suppression of evidence to impeach that testimony constituted a denial of due process of law. Petitioner further contends that the state deprives him of his liberty without due process of law by its failure, in the circumstances set forth, to provide any corrective judicial process by which a conviction so obtained may be set aside.

In support of his serious charges, petitioner submits a chronological history of the trials, appeals, and other judicial proceedings connected with his conviction, and of his applications for executive clemency. He sets forth the evidence which, as he contends, proves the perjury of the witnesses upon whose testimony he was convicted and the knowledge on the part of the prosecuting authorities of that perjury and the suppression by those authorities of impeaching evidence at their command. He also submits what he insists are admissions by the state that the testimony offered against him was perjured and that his conviction was unjustified. In amplification of these statements, he asks leave to incorporate in his petition, by reference, the voluminous details of the various proceedings as they were presented with his petition to the District Court.

In response to our rule to show cause why leave to file the petition should not be granted, the respondent has made return by the Attorney General of the state. With this return, he submits an appendix of exhibits setting forth the consent filed by the Attorney General with the Supreme Court of the state on July 30, 1917, that the judgment of conviction be reversed and the cause remanded for a new trial, and subsequent opinions of that court upon the cases presented to it, the statements of Governors of the state on applications for executive clemency made on behalf of this petitioner and of one Billings (who had been jointly indicted with petitioner and was separately tried and convicted), and the reports of justices of the Supreme Court of the state, and communications addressed by them, to the Governors of the state in connection with such applications.

The return does not put in issue any of the facts alleged in the petition. The return is in nature of a demurrer. It submits that the petitioner 'has failed to raise a Federal question and that, consequently, leave to file the petition should be denied.' Reviewing decisions relating to due process, the Attorney General insists that the petitioner's argument is vitiated by the fallacy 'that the acts or omissions of a prosecuting attorney can ever in and by themselves, amount either to due process of law or to a denial of due process of law.' The Attorney General states that, if the acts or omissions of a prosecuting attorney 'have the effect of withholding from a defendant the notice which must be accorded him under the due process clause, or if they have the effect of preventing a defendant from presenting such evidence as he possesses in defense of the accusation against him, then such acts or omissions of the prosecuting attorney may be regarded as resulting in a denial of due process of law.' And, 'conversely,' the Attorney General contends that 'it is only where an act or omission operates so as to deprive a defendant of notice or so as to deprive him of an opportunity to present such evidence as he has, that it can be said that due process of law has been denied.'

Without attempting at this time to deal with the question at length, we deem it sufficient for the present purpose to say that we are unable to approve this narrow view of the requirement of due process. That requirement, in safeguarding the liberty of the citizen against deprivation through the action of the state, embodies the fundamental conceptions of justice which lie at the base of our civil and political institutions. Hebert v. Louisiana, 272 U.S. 312, 316, 317, 47 S.Ct. 103, 71 L.Ed. 270, 48 A.L.R. 1102. It is a requirement that cannot be deemed to be satisfied by mere notice and hearing if a state has contrived a conviction through the pretense of a trial which in truth is but used as a means of depriving a defendant of liberty through a deliberate deception of court and jury by the presentation of testimony known to be perjured. Such a contrivance by a state to procure the conviction and imprisonment of a defendant is an inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of justice as is the obtaining of a like result by intimidation. And the action of prosecuting officers on behalf of the state, like that of adminis- trative officers in the execution of its laws, may constitute state action within the purview of the Fourteenth...

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