Smith v. Grady

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation85 L.Ed. 859,61 S.Ct. 572,312 U.S. 329
Docket NumberNo. 364,364
PartiesSMITH v. O'GRADY, Warden of Nebraska State Penitentiary
Decision Date17 February 1941

Mr. William L. Marbury, Jr., of Baltimore, Md., for petitioner.

Mr. C. S. Beck, of Lincoln, Neb., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented is whether petitioner's application for writ of habeas corpus filed in a Nebraska state court alleged facts which if proven entitled him to release from prison because he was held pursuant to a court judgment rendered in violation of rights guaranteed him by the federal Constitution. The trial court declined to issue the writ, holding that the petition failed to state a cause of action justifying the relief prayed. Without requiring the state to answer and without giving petitioner an opportunity to prove his allegations, the application was dismissed. A motion for reconsideration, setting out additional facts, was similarly dismissed. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Nebraska affirmed, without opinion.

The judgment of the Nebraska Supreme Court is a final and authoritative answer to petitioner's contention that his imprisonment was illegal under the state's constitution or laws. But petitioner also contended that his imprisonment was illegal under the federal Constitution. And in denying the writ the Nebraska court necessarily held that petitioner's allegations—even if proven in their entirety—would not entitle him to habeas corpus, even if the petition showed a deprivation of federally protected rights.1 It was to review this question that we granted certiorari. 311 U.S. 633, 61 S.Ct. 62, 85 L.Ed. —-.

But before examining the pleadings in order to determine whether the allegations showed a deprivation of federally protected rights, it is necessary to consider a preliminary contention urged by the state. The tenor of this contention is that under Nebraska law petitioner could not have his asserted federal rights determined in habeas corpus proceedings. And, supporting this contention, there is in the record a letter to petitioner from the trial judge who originally denied the writ—a letter indicating that petitioner's only relief from illegal imprisonment was by application to the Nebraska Parole and Pardon Board. This letter is not, however, a judicial determination, and apparently no state statutes or court decisions compel the result it indicates. Nor can we lightly assume that Nebraska affords no corrective process for one who is imprisoned under a judgment rendered in violation of rights protected by the federal Constitution. That Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and 'Upon the state courts, equally with the courts of the Union, rests the obligation to guard and enforce every right secured by that Constitution.'2 Moreover, while the opinions of the Nebraska courts do not mark clearly the exact boundaries within which Nebraska confines the historic remedy of habeas corpus, the Nebraska Supreme Court has held that the writ was properly invoked to obtain release from imprisonment resulting from deprivation of constitutional rights.3 Because of this, and because a contrary conclusion would apparently mean that Nebraska provides no judicial remedy whatsoever for petitioner even though he can show he is imprisoned in violation of procedural safeguards commanded by the federal Constitution,4 we are unable to reach the conclusion that habeas corpus is unavailable to him under Nebraska law.

It is therefore our duty to examine petitioner's allegations in order to determine whether they show that his imprisonment is the result of a deprivation of rights guaranteed him by the federal Constitution. The heart of his charge is that he, an ignorant layman not represented by counsel, was tricked into pleading guilty to a serious offense. Among the specific allegations are:

Petitioner, without being informed of the charges against him, was arrested in one county, and then removed to another county for two days. There he was told he was wanted for burglary in a third county (Valley County), but would be dealt with leniently if he would plead guilty. After a long distance telephone conversation between petitioner and a man identified as the prosecuting attorney of Valley County, a conversation arranged and listened to by the Valley County sheriff, a sentence of not over three years was agreed upon. Petitioner was soon thereafter transferred to the Valley County jail. His efforts to get copies of the charges filed against him were unsuccessful, the sheriff telling him that this was 'not necessary' since 'everything had been 'fixed." After three days in the Valley County jail, and 'without ever having had a copy of the charge', petitioner was taken before a trial judge, 'summarily arraigned, and, upon his prearranged plea of guilty, sentenced, to his surprise and consternation, to a term of twenty years imprisonment in the Nebraska State Penitentiary.' Petitioner, an uneducated layman, had no knowledge of law or legal procedure, and had never before been arrested or been in a...

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627 cases
  • State v. Cobb, (SC 14384)
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • December 7, 1999
    ......See Smith v. O'Grady, 312 U.S. 329, 334, 61 S. Ct. 572, 85 L. Ed. 859 (1941) ." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Shockley, 188 Conn. 697, ......
  • Commonwealth ex rel. Master v. Baldi
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • March 20, 1950
    ...... corpus, litigation in these criminal cases. [72 A.2d 153] . will be interminable." "In Commonwealth ex rel. McGlinn v. Smith, 344 Pa. 41, 24 A.2d 1, we [the Supreme. Court] said: '. . . that "The writ of habeas corpus. can never be used as a substitute for an appeal. . . ... v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 58 S.Ct. 1019, 82 L.Ed. 1461;. Walker v. Johnston, 312 U.S. 275, 61 S.Ct. 574, 85. L.Ed. 830; Smith v. O'Grady, 312 U.S. 329, 334,. 61 S.Ct. 572, 85 L.Ed. 859; Townsend v. Burke, . supra, 334 U.S. 736, 68 S.Ct. 1252, 92 L.Ed. 1690; Gibbs. v. Burke, ......
  • Osborne v. Com.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • May 15, 1979
    ..."real notice of the true nature of the charge against him." Id. at 645, 96 S.Ct. at 2257, quoting from Smith v. O'Grady, 312 U.S. 329, 334, 61 S.Ct. 572, 85 L.Ed. 859 (1941). The defendant in this case was of normal or above-average intelligence. He sat through two days of trial during whic......
  • Merritt v. United States
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia
    • November 9, 2020
    ...the charge against him, the first and most universally recognized requirement of due process." Id. (citing Smith v. O'Grady , 312 U.S. 329, 334, 61 S.Ct. 572, 85 L.Ed. 859 (1941) ); see also, Henderson , 426 U.S. 637, at 645-46, 96 S.Ct. 2253 (Holding that despite the Government having over......
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2 books & journal articles
  • The lawyer's license to discriminate revoked: how a dentist put teeth in New York's anti-discrimination disciplinary rule.
    • United States
    • Albany Law Review Vol. 64 No. 1, September 2000
    • September 22, 2000
    ...See Gideon, 372 U.S. at 344 (stating that right to counsel as a means for securing fair trial is an "obvious truth"); Smith v. O'Grady, 312 U.S. 329, 334 (1941) (reversing conviction in part because of court's failure to provide counsel); Avery v. Alabama, 308 U.S. 444, 446 (1940) (stating ......
  • The Supreme Court as Protector of Civil Rights: Criminal Justice
    • United States
    • ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, The No. 275-1, May 1951
    • May 1, 1951
    ...dissenting, Douglas, J., not participating. ledge, JJ., dissenting. 52 Conviction not disturbed: Betts v. Brady, 57 Smith v. O’Grady, 312 U. S. 329 (1941) 316 U. S. 455 (1942)-Black, Douglas, Murphy, William v. Kaiser, 323 U. S. 471 (1945)- JJ., dissenting; Foster v. Illinois, 332 U. S. Rob......

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