Smith v. Hooey

Decision Date20 January 1969
Docket NumberNo. 198,198
Citation21 L.Ed.2d 607,89 S.Ct. 575,393 U.S. 374
PartiesRichard M. SMITH, Petitioner, v. Fred M. HOOEY, Judge, Criminal District Court of Harris County, Texas
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Charles Alan Wright, Austin, Tex., for petitioner.

Joe S. Moss, Houston, Tex., for respondent.

Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Klopfer v. North Carolina, 386 U.S. 213, 87 S.Ct. 988, 18 L.Ed.2d 1, this Court held that, by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial1 is enforceable against the States as 'one of the most basic rights preserved by our Constitution.' Id., at 226, 87 S.Ct. at 995. The case before us involves the nature and extent of the obligation imposed upon a State by that constitutional guarantee, when the person under the state criminal charge is serving a prison sentence imposed by another jurisdiction.

In 1960 the petitioner was indicted in Harris County, Texas, upon a charge of theft. He was then, and still is, a prisoner in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.2 Shortly after the state charge was filed against him, the petition r mailed a letter to the Texas trial court requesting a speedy trial. In reply, he was notified that 'he would be afforded a trial within two weeks of any date (he) might specify at which he could be present.' 3 Thereafter, for the next six years, the petitioner, 'by various letters, and more formal so-called 'motions," continued periodically to ask that he be brought to trial. Beyond the response already alluded to, the State took no steps to obtain the petitioner's appearance in the Harris County trial court. Finally, in 1967, the petitioner filed in that court a verified motion to dismiss the charge against him for want of prosecution. No action was taken on the motion.

The petitioner then brought a mandamus proceeding in the Supreme Court of Texas, asking for an order to show cause why the pending charge should not be dismissed. Mandamus was refused in an informal and unreported order of the Texas Supreme Court. The petitioner then sought certiorari in this Court. After invit- ing and receiving a memorandum from the Solicitor General of the United Sates, 390 U.S. 937, 88 S.Ct. 1057, 19 L.Ed.2d 1127, we granted certiorari to consider the constitutional questions this case presents. 392 U.S. 925, 88 S.Ct. 2288, 20 L.Ed.2d 1384.

In refusing to issue a writ of mandamus, the Supreme Court of Texas relied upon and reaffirmed its decision of a year earlier in Cooper v. State, 400 S.W.2d 890.4 In that case, as in the present one, a state criminal charge was pending against a man who was an inmate of a federal prison. He filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus ad prosequendum in the Texas trial court, praying that he be brought before the court for trial, or that the charge against him be dismissed. Upon denial of that motion, he applied to the Supreme Court of Texas for a writ of mandamus. In denying the application, the court acknowledged that an inmate of a Texas prison would have been clearly entitled to the relief sought as a matter of constitutional right,5 but held that 'a differ- ent rule is applicable when two separate sovereignties are involved.' 400 S.W.2d, at 891. The court viewed the difference as 'one of power and authority.' Id., at 892. While acknowledging that if the state authorities were 'ordered to proceed with the prosecution * * * and comply with certain conditions specified by the federal prison authorities, the relator would be produced for trial in the state court,' id., at 891, it nonetheless denied relief because it thought '(t)he true test should be the power and authority of the state unaided by any waiver, permission or act of grace of any other authority.' Id., at 892. Four Justices dissented, expressing their belief that 'where the state has the power to afford the accused a speedy trial it is under a duty to do so.' Id., at 893.

There can be no doubt that if the petitioner in the present case had been at large for a six-year period following his indictment, and had repeatedly demanded that he be brought to trial, the State would have been under a constitutional duty to try him. Klopfer v. North Carolina, supra, 386 U.S., at 219, 87 S.Ct., at 991. And Texas concedes that if during that period he had been confined in a Texas prison for some other state offense, its obligation would have been no less. But the Texas Supreme Court has held that because petitioner is, in fact, confined in a federal prison, the State is totally absolved from any duty at all under the constitutional guarantee. We cannot agree.

The historic origins of the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial were traced in some detail by The Chief Justice in his opinion for the Court in Klopfer, supra, 386 U.S., at 223-226, 87 S.Ct., at 993—995, and we need not review that history again here. Suffice it to remember that this constitutional guarantee has universally6 been thought essential to pro- tect at least three basic demands of criminal justice in the Anglo-American legal system: '(1) to prevent undue and oppressive incarceration prior to trial, (2) to minimize anxiety and concern accompanying public accusation and (3) to limit the possiblities that long delay will impair the ability of an accused to defend himself.' United States v. Ewell, 383 U.S. 116, 120, 86 S.Ct. 773, 776, 15 L.Ed.2d 627. These demands are both aggravated and compounded in the case of an accused who is imprisoned by another jurisdiction.

At first blush it might appear that a man already in prison under a lawful sentence is hardly in a position to suffer from 'undue and oppressive incarceration prior to trial.' But the fact is that delay in bringing such a person to trial on a pending charge may ultimately result in as much oppression as is suffered by one who is jailed without bail upon an untried charge. First, the possibility that the defendant already in prison might receive a sentence at least partially concurrent with the one he is serving may be forever lost if trial of the pending charge is postponed.7 Secondly, under procedures now widely practiced, the duration of his present imprisonment may be increased, and the conditions under which he must serve his sentence greatly worsened, by the pendency of another criminal charge outstanding against him. 8

And while it might be argued that a person already in prison would be less likely than others to be affected by 'anxiety and concern accompanying public accusation,' there is reason to believe that an outstanding untried charge (of which even a convict may, of course, be innocent) can have fully as depressive an effect upon a prisoner as upon a person who is at large. Cf. Klopfer v. North Carolina, supra, 386 U.S. at 221—222, 87 S.Ct. at 992—993. In the opinion of the former Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons,

'(I)t is in their effect upon the prisoner and our attempts to rehabilitate him that detainers are most corrosive. The strain of having to serve a sentence with the uncertain prospect of being taken into the custody of another state at the conclusion interferes with the prisoner's ability to take maximum advantage of his institutional opportunities. His anxiety and depression may leave him with little inclination toward self-improvement.'9

Finally, it is self-evident that 'the possibilities that long delay will impair the ability of an accused to defend himself' are markedly increased when the accused is incarcerated in another jurisdiction. Confined in a prison, perhaps far from the place where the offense covered by the outstanding charge allegedly took place, his ability to confer with potential defense witnesses, or even to keep track of their whereabouts, is obviously impaired. And, while 'evidence and witnesses disappear, memories fade, and events lose their perspective,'10 a man isolated in prison is powerless to exert his own investigative efforts to mitigate these erosive effects of the passage of time.

Despite all these considerations, the Texas Supreme Court has said that the State is under no duty even to attempt to bring a man in the petitioner's position to trial, because '(t)he question is one of power and authority and is in no way dependent upon how or in what manner the federal sovereignty may proceed in a discretionary way under the doctrine of comity.'11 Yet Texas concedes that if it did make an effort to secure a federal prisoner's appearance, he would, in fact, 'be pro- duced for trial in the state court.' 12 This is fully confirmed by the memorandum that the Solicitor General has filed in the present case:

'(T)he Bureau of Prisons would doubtless have made the prisoner available if a writ of habeas corpus ad prosequendum had been issued by the state court. It does not appear, however, that the State at any point sought to initiate that procedure in this case.'13

In view of these realities, we think the Texas court was mistaken in allowing doctrinaire concepts of 'power' and 'authority' to submerge the practical demands of the constitutional right to a speedy trial. Indeed, the rationale upon which the Texas Supreme Court based its denial of relief in this case was wholly undercut last Term in Barder v. Page, 390 U.S. 719, 88 S.Ct. 1318, 20 L.Ed.2d 255. In that case we dealt with another Sixth Amendment guarantee—the right of confrontation. In holding that Oklahoma could not excuse its failure to produce a prosecution witness simply because he was in a federal prison outside the State, we said:

'We start with the fact that the State made absolutely no effort to obtain the presence of Woods at trial other than to ascertain that he was in a federal prison outside Oklahoma. It must be acknowledged that various courts and commentators have heretofore assumed that the mere absence of a witness from the jurisdiction was sufficient ground for dispensing with confrontation on the theory that 'it is impossible to compel his...

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