Sanders v. United States

Decision Date29 April 1963
Docket NumberNo. 202,202
Citation10 L.Ed.2d 148,373 U.S. 1,83 S.Ct. 1068
PartiesCharles Edward SANDERS, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 1-2 intentionally omitted] Fred M. Vinson, Jr., Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Miss Beatrice Rosenberg, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

We consider here the standards which should guide a federal court in deciding whether to grant a hearing on a motion of a federal prisoner under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.1 Under that statute, a federal prisoner who claims that his sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States may seek relief from the sentence by filing a motion in the sentencing court stating the facts supporting his claim. '(A) prompt hearing' on the motion is required '(u)nless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief * * *.' The section further provides that '(t)he sentencing court shall not be required to entertain a second or successive motion for similar relief on behalf of the same prisoner.'

The petitioner is serving a 15-year sentence for robbery of a federally insured bank in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a). He filed two motions under § 2255. The first alleged no facts but only bare conclusions in support of his claim. The second, filed eight months after the first, alleged facts which, if true, might entitle him to relief. Both motions were denied, without hearing, by the District Court for the Northern District of California. On appeal from the denial of the second motion, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. 297 F.2d 735. We granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis and certiorari. 370 U.S. 936, 82 S.Ct. 1592, 8 L.Ed.2d 806.

On January 19 ,1959, petitioner was brought before the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, and was handed a copy of a proposed information charging him with the robbery. He appeared without counsel. In response to inquiries of the trial judge, petitioner stated that he wished to waive assistance of counsel and to proceed by information rather than indictment;2 he signed a waiver of indictment, and then pleaded guilty to the charge in the information. On February 10 he was sentenced. Before sentence was pronounced, petitioner said to the judge: 'If possible, your Honor, I would like to go to Springfield or Lexington for addiction cure. I have been using narcotics off and on for quite a while.' The judge replied that he was 'willing to recommend that.'

On January 4, 1960, petitioner, appearing pro se, filed his first motion. He alleged no facts but merely the conclusions that (1) the 'Indictment' was invalid, (2) 'Appellant was denied adequate assistance of Counsel as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment,' and (3) the sentencing court had 'allowed the Appellant to be intimidated and coerced into intering (sic) a plea without Counsel, and any knowledge of the charges lodged against the Appellant.' He filed with the motion an application for a writ of habeas corpus ad testificandum requiring the prison authorities to produce him before the court to testify in support of his motion. On February 3 the District Court denied both the motion and the application. In a memorandum accompanying the denial, the court explained that the motion, 'although replete with conclusions, sets forth no facts upon which such conclusions can be founded. For this reason alone, this motion may be denied without a hearing.' Nevertheless, the court stated further that the motion 'sets forth nothing but unsupported charges, which are completely refuted by the files and records of this case. Since the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief, no hearing on the motion is necessary.' No appeal was taken by the petitioner from this denial.

On September 8 petitioner, again appearing pro se, filed his second motion. This time he alleged that at the time of his trial and sentence he was mentally incompetent as a result of narcotics administered to him while he was held in the Sacramento County Jail pending trial. He stated in a supporting affidavit that he had been confined in the jail from on or about January 16, 1959, to February 18, 1959; that during this period and during the period of his 'trial' he had been intermittently under the influence of narcotics; and that the narcotics had been administered to him by the medical authorities in attendance at the jail because of his being a known addict. The District Court denied the motion without hearing, stating: 'As there is no reason given, or apparent to this Court, why petitioner could not, and should not, have raised the issue of mental incompetency at the time of his first motion, the Court will refuse, in the exercise of its statutory discretion, to entertain the present petition.' (Footnote omitted.) The court also stated that 'petitioner's complaints are without merit in fact.' On appeal from the order denying this motion, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. 297 F.2d 735 (1961). The Court of Appeals said in a per curiam opinion: 'Where, as here, it is apparent from the record that at the time of filing the first motion the movant knew the facts on which the second motion is based, yet in the second motion set forth no reason why he was previously unable to assert the new ground and did not allege that he had previously been unaware of the significance of the relevant facts, the district court, may, in its discretion, decline to entertain the second motion.' 297 F.2d, at 736—737.

We reverse. We hold that the sentencing court should have granted a hearing on the second motion.

I.

The statute in terms requires that a prisoner shall be granted a hearing on a motion which alleges sufficient facts to support a claim for relief unless the motion and the files and records of the case 'conclusively show' that the claim is without merit. This is the first case in which we have been called upon to determine what significance, in deciding whether to grant a hearing, the sentencing court should attach to any record of proceedings on prior motions for relief which may be among the files and records of the case, in light of the provision that: 'The sentencing court shall not be required to entertain a second or successive motion for similar relief on behalf of the same prisoner.' This provision has caused uncer- tainty in the District Courts, see Bistram v. United States, 180 F.Supp. 501 (D.C.D.N.Dak.), aff'd, 283 F.2d 1 (C.A.8th Cir., 1960), and has provoked a conflict between circuits: with the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the instant case, compare, e.g., Juelich v. United States, 300 F.2d 381 (C.A.5th Cir., 1962); Smith v. United States, 106 U.S.App.D.C. 169, 270 F.2d 921 (1959). We think guidelines to the proper construction of the provision are to be found in its history.

At common law, the denial by a court or judge of an application for habeas corpus was not res judicata. King v. Suddis, 1 East 306, 102 Eng.Rep. 119 (K.B.1801); Burdett v. Abbot, 14 East 1, 90, 104 Eng.Rep. 501, 535 (K.B.1811); Ex parte Partington, 13 M. & W. 679, 153 Eng.Rep. 284 (Ex.1845); Church, Habeas Corpus (1884), § 386; Ferris and Ferris, Extraordinary Legal Remedies (1926), § 55.3 'A person detained in custody might thus proceed from court to court until he obtained his liberty.' Cox v. Hakes, 15 A.C. 506, 527 (H.L., 1890). 4 That this was a principle of our law of habeas corpus as well as the English was assumed to be the case from the earliest days of federal habeas corpus jurisdiction. Cf. Ex parte Burford, 3 Cranch 448, 2 L.Ed. 495 (Chief Justice Marshall). Since then, it has become settled in an unbroken line of decisions. Ex parte Kaine, 3 Blatchf. 1, 5—6 (Mr. Justice Nelson in Chambers); In re Kaine, 14 How. 103, 14 L.Ed. 345; Ex parte Cuddy, 40 F. 62, 65 (Cir.Ct.S.D.Cal.1889) (Mr. Justice Field); Frank v. Mangum, 237 U.S. 309, 334, 35 S.Ct. 582, 590, 59 L.Ed. 969; Salinger v. Loisel, 265 U.S. 224, 230, 44 S.Ct. 519, 521, 68 L.Ed. 989; Waley v. Johnston, 316 U.S. 101, 62 S.Ct. 964, 86 L.Ed. 1302; United States ex rel. Accardi v. Shaughnessy, 347 U.S. 260, 263, n. 4, 74 S.Ct. 499, 501, 98 L.Ed. 681; Heflin v. United States, 358 U.S. 415, 420, 79 S.Ct. 451, 454, 3 L.Ed.2d 407 (opinion of Mr. Justice Stewart) (dictum); Powell v. Sacks, 303 F.2d 808 (C.A.6th Cir., 1962). Indeed, only the other day we remarked upon 'the familiar principle that res judicata is inapplicable in habeas proceedings.' Fay v. Noia, 372 U.S. 391, 423, 83 S.Ct. 822, 840.

It has been suggested, see Salinger v. Loisel, supra, 265 U.S., at 230—231, 44 S.Ct., at 521—522, 68 L.Ed. 989, that this principle derives from the fact that at common law habeas corpus judgments were not appealable. But its roots would seem to go deeper. Conventional notions of finality of litigation have no place where life or liberty is at stake and infringement of constitutional rights is alleged. If 'government (is) always (to) be accountable to the judiciary for a man's imprisonment,' Fay v. Noia, supra, 375 U.S., at 402, 83 S.Ct., at page 829, access to the courts on habeas must not be thus impeded. The inapplicability of res judicata to habeas, then, is inherent in the very role and function of the writ.

A prisoner whose motion under § 2255 is denied will often file another, sometimes many successive motions. We are aware that in consequence the question whether to grant a hearing on a successive motion can be troublesome—particularly when the motion is prepared without the assistance of counsel and contains matter extraneous to the prisoner's case. But the problem is not new, and our decisions under habeas corpus have identified situations where denial without hearing is proper even though a second or successive application states a...

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