Moore v. State of Michigan, 42

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation78 S.Ct. 191,2 L.Ed.2d 167,355 U.S. 155
Docket NumberNo. 42,42
PartiesWillie B. MOORE, Petitioner, v. STATE OF MICHIGAN
Decision Date09 December 1957

Mr. William H. Culver, Kalamazoo, Mich., for petitioner.

Mr. Samuel J. Torina, Lansing, Mich., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

On October 29, 1938, the Circuit Court of Kalamazoo County, Michigan, accepted the petitioner's plea of guilty to an information charging him with the murder of an elderly white lady. He was sentenced to solitary confinement at hard labor for life in Michigan's Jackson Prison, where he has since been confined. 1 Petitioner, a Negro with a seventh-grade education, was 17 years old at the time. On May 26, 1950, he filed a delayed motion for a new trial in the Circuit Court. He asserted constitutional invalidity in his conviction and sentence because he did not have the assistance of counsel at the time of his plea and sentence. The Circuit Court, after hearing, denied the motion, and the Supreme Court of Michigan affirmed.2 We granted certiorari to decide the important question raised involving a plea of guilty to a charge of murder where the accused was without the benefit of counsel.3

The petitioner was arrested during the afternoon of October 26, 1938, a few hours after the murder was committed. He was confined in a Kalamazoo jail and was questioned by local law authorities from time to time until the afternoon of October 28, when he orally confessed to the crime.4 On Saturday morning, October 29, 1938, he was arraigned in the Circuit Court where he pleaded guilty, was adjudged guilty of murder in the first degree, and, after sentence, was transferred from the Kalamazoo jail to the Jackson Prison.

In accordance with the then prevailing procedure no stenographic transcript was taken of the proceedings in the Circuit Court at the time of the arraignment and plea. However, at the hearing held on the delayed motion for a new trial, two witnesses, who were present in the courtroom on October 29, 1938, testified as to what then transpired. On the basis of their testimony the Circuit Court in denying the motion for new trial found as a fact—which finding is, of course, accepted by us—that before the petitioner tendered the plea of guilty the trial judge asked the petitioner 'whether he had a lawyer and whether he desired to have a lawyer, and that (the petitioner) gave a negative reply to both of these inquiries, and stated that he wanted to get the matter over with.'

The record further discloses that at the arraignment the trial judge, acting in conformity with Michigan procedure, which required him to conduct an investigation into the voluntariness of any plea of guilty,5 conferred privately with petitioner for 'some five to ten minutes' in chambers. Upon the return of the judge and petitioner to the courtroom, the judge stated that the plea would be accepted and proceeded to conduct the hearing required by Michigan law6 to determine the degree of the offense of murder. At this hearing several witnesses testified to the details of the crime. The petitioner took no part in the examination of these witnesses nor did he testify. At the conclusion of the testimony, the trial judge pronounced judgment that the petitioner was guilty of murder in the first degree, and imposed sentence.

The judge made a statement, stenographically transcribed, that, over the previous three years, the petitioner had 'been in trouble four or five times, consisting of breaking and entering and unlawful taking of automobiles' and had been handled as a juvenile offender on such occasions. He also stated that the petitioner had 'discussed the whole affair (the murder) very freely with me in all its revolting details' and that 'in my private interview with respondent, I assured him that he must not plead guilty unless he really is guilty; that he was not required to plead guilty; that he could have a trial by jury if he desired it. He assured me freely and voluntarily that he is guilty and that his one desire is to have it all over, to get to the institution to which he is to be committed, and to be under observation and to be examined * * *.' The judge at this point recited the details of the crime as told to him by the petitioner and then stated: 'Such is his story to me in private, told very calmly; without any compulsion whatever. He insists that there is something wrong with his head; that he has had something akin to queer sensations before this.'

We may reasonably infer from the record that neither the trial judge nor the Michigan courts which considered the delayed motion thought that the petitioner's plight required the assistance of counsel to satisfy the requisites of the fair hearing secured by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in a state prosecution. The principles determining the extent to which this constitutional right to counsel is secured in a state prosecution have been discussed in a long series of decisions of this Court. 7 We hold that the petitioner's case falls within that class in which the intervention of counsel, unless intelligently waived by the accused, is an essential element of a fair hearing.

The petitioner was 17 years of age and had a seventh-grade education. Cf. DeMeerleer v. People of State of Michigan, 329 U.S. 663, 67 S.Ct. 596, 91 L.Ed. 584; Wade v. Mayo, 334 U.S. 672, 68 S.Ct. 1270, 92 L.Ed. 1647; Williams v. Huff, 79 U.S.App.D.C. 326, 146 F.2d 867. He was charged with a crime carrying Michigan's maximum penalty, viz., solitary confinement at hard labor for life without possibility of parole. Mich.Stat.Ann.1954, §§ 28.548, 28.2304, Comp.Laws 1948, § 750.316, Comp.Laws Supp.1956, § 791.234. Cf. Powell v. State of Alabama, 287 U.S. 45, 53 S.Ct. 55, 77 L.Ed. 158. The record shows possible defenses which might reasonably have been asserted at trial, but the extent of their availability raised questions of considerable technical difficulty obviously beyond his capacity to comprehend. For instance, one possible defense was insanity, suggested by the trial judge's statements that 'his one desire is to have it all over, to get to the institution to which he is to be committed, and to be under observation and to be examined * * *'; 'he insists that there is something wrong with his head; that he has had something akin to queer sensations before this.' Another possible defense was mistaken identity, suggested by the fact that the evidence pointing to him as the perpetrator of the crime was entirely circumstantial. Cf. Com. of Pennsylvania ex rel. Herman v. Claudy, 350 U.S. 116, 76 S.Ct. 223, 100 L.Ed. 126; Rice v. Olson, 324 U.S. 786, 65 S.Ct. 989, 89 L.Ed. 1367. Moreover, the proceedings to determine the degree of murder, the outcome of which determined the extent of punishment, introduced their own complexities. With the aid of counsel, the petitioner, who, as we have said, neither testified himself in the proceeding nor cross-examined the prosecution's witnesses, might have done much to establish a lesser degree of the substantive crime, or to establish facts and make arguments which would have mitigated the sentence. The right to counsel is not a right confined to representation during the trial on the merits. Reece v. State of Georgia, 350 U.S. 85, 76 S.Ct. 167, 100 L.Ed. 77. The circumstances compel the conclusion that the petitioner's rights could not have been fairly protected without the assistance of counsel to help him with his defense.

However, we may also infer from the record that the Michigan courts held that even if petitioner was constitutionally entitled to the assistance of counsel he waived this right when he told the trial judge that 'he didn't want one, didn't have one, he wanted to get it over with.' The constitutional right, of course, does not justify forcing counsel upon an accused who wants none. See Carter v. People of State of Illinois, 329 U.S. 173, 174, 67 S.Ct. 216, 218, 91 L.Ed. 172. But, 'where a person convicted in a state court has not intelligently and understandingly waived the benefit of counsel and where the circumstances show that his rights could not have been fairly protected without counsel, the Due Process Clause invalidates his conviction * * *.' Com. of Pennsylvania ex rel. Herman v. Claudy, 350 U.S. 116, 118, 76 S.Ct. 223, 224, 100 L.Ed. 126. Where the right to counsel is of such critical importance as to be an element of Due Process under the Fourteenth Amendment, a finding of waiver is not lightly to be made. Cf. Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 464, 58 S.Ct. 1019, 1023, 82 L.Ed. 1461; Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 70, 62 S.Ct. 457, 464, 86 L.Ed. 680; Von Moltke v. Gillies, 332 U.S. 708, 723, 68 S.Ct. 316, 323, 92 L.Ed. 309.

This Court held in Johnson v. Zerbst, supra, that when a judgment of conviction entered in a federal court is collaterally attacked upon the ground that the defendant did not have the benefit of counsel, he has the burden of showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he did not have counsel and did not competently and intelligently waive his constitutional right to the assistance of counsel. We have found that the petitioner was entitled to the benefit of counsel to secure the fair hearing guaranteed to him by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Whatever may be the differences in the substantive right to counsel in federal and state cases, when the defendant in a state case has established his constitutional right to the benefit of counsel, he should carry the same burden of proving nonwaiver as is required of a defendant in a federal case. We therefore hold that the rule of Johnson v. Zerbst applies in this case and that the petitioner had the burden of showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he did not intelligently and understandingly waive his right to counsel.

Notwithstanding the petitioner's express disavowal, before his plea, of a desire for counsel, ...

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