United States Smith v. Baldi 13 8212 14, 1952

Decision Date09 February 1953
Docket NumberNo. 31,31
Citation97 L.Ed. 549,73 S.Ct. 391,344 U.S. 561
PartiesUNITED STATES ex rel. SMITH v. BALDI, Superintendent, Philadelphia County Prison. Re-Argued Oct. 13—14, 1952
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Thomas D. McBride, Philadelphia, Pa., for petitioner.

Mr. Randolph C. Ryder, Lancaster, Pa., for respondent.

Mr. Justice REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by the State of Pennsylvania. The crime was committed in January 1948. Petitioner was without counsel when he appeared for arraignment on February 25, 1948. The presiding judge asked a lawyer present in the courtroom to advise petitioner how to plead. This lawyer, who knew nothing about petitioner, advised him to enter a plea of 'not guilty.' On September 21, 1948, after several continuances, the District Attorney to- gether with petitioner's state-named counsel, who had been appointed after arraignment, and a judge of the sentencing court, agreed that a plea of 'guilty' would be substituted for the earlier plea of 'not guilty.' This was done so that the State could present its evidence that the crime was first degree murder, and petitioner's counsel would then have additional time in which to procure out-of-state evidence at State expense to support the contention that petitioner was insane. The State put in its evidence on September 21, 1948. At hearings held on October 28, 1948, and November 5, 1948, defense counsel introduced evidence tending to show that petitioner was insane. The sentencing court was not satisfied by the evidence that petitioner had been insane either at the time of the murder or at any time thereafter, and on February 4, 1949, sentenced him to death.

While the docket entries § shown in the trial record differ from the notes on the indictment, as to whether the sentencing court found petitioner guilty of first degree murder on September 21, 1948, or did not so find until February 4, 1949, the difference is immaterial. According to the entries written in longhand on petitioner's indictment, 192 F.2d at page 569, the entry noting the adjudication of guilty of murder in the first degree on February 4, 1949, is not in proper order. It appears to have been inserted between the entry stating that petitioner had withdrawn his plea of not guilty and entered a plea of guilty on September 21, 1948, and the entry of November 5, 1948, stating that 'additional testimony (had been) heard and held under advisement.' If the contested and out-of-order date of '2/4/49' is removed, the notes on the indictment would agree with the docket entry of September 21, 1948, and would read '(A)fter hearing testimony both for the Commonwealth and the defendant * * * the defendant is adjudged guilty of murder in the first degree.'1 Since the entry of September 21, 1948, was made following a plea of guilty and with opportunity for further evidence as to insanity, it was not in any way binding or even persuasive. It was the sentence on February 4, 1949, after the insanity hearing that was the final adjudication.

An appeal was taken from this judgment on a full record to the State Supreme Court where it was asserted that it was an abuse of discretion by the sentencing court to have imposed the death sentence in the circumstances of the case. The conviction was affirmed. 362 Pa. 222, 66 A.2d 764. No effort was made to secure from this Court a writ of certiorari to review that affirmance. Petitioner thereafter filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The petition was denied on the ground that petitioner was not within the jurisdiction of the court at the time the proceeding was instituted. United States ex rel. Smith v. Warden of Philadelphia County Prison, 87 F.Supp. 339. On appeal the denial was affirmed by the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. 181 F.2d 847. No petition for certiorari to review that decision was filed with this Court. A petition for habeas corpus was then filed in the State Supreme Court. This was entertained on the merits and denied on the ground that there was no denial of due process of law and there 'was nothing in this record which convinces us that this relator was insane when he committed the murder charged or when he pleaded guilty or at the time he was sentenced to death.' 364 Pa. 93, at page 119, 71 A.2d 107, at page 120. Immediately following our denial of a timely petition for certiorari, 340 U.S. 812, 71 S.Ct. 40, 95 L.Ed. 597, petitioner filed a second application for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The District Court dismissed the petition noting that all the issues presented in the petition had been before the State Supreme Court 96 F.Supp. 100, 105. On appeal the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed. 192 F.2d 540. We granted certiorari, 343 U.S. 903, 72 S.Ct. 639, 96 L.Ed. 1322. The petitions involved in the State habeas corpus proceedings presented the identical due process questions which are before us now, and the complete record of the State trial proceedings appellate as well as those in State habeas corpus—were before the District Court and the Court of Appeals.

The first point we consider is the question of the effect to be given our denial of certiorari in a habeas corpus case. Both the District Court, 96 F.Supp. 100, 105, and the Court of Appeals, 192 F.2d 540, 544, concluded that the denial of certiorari in habeas corpus cases means nothing except that certiorari was denied. 343 U.S. 903, 72 S.Ct. 639, 96 L.Ed. 1322. As the effect of a denial of certiorari was then in doubt, we granted this petition primarily to determine its effect. As this conclusion is spelled out more fully in the opinions in Brown v. Allen, 344 U.S. 443, 73 S.Ct. 397, 437, the answer is short. Our denial of certiorari in habeas corpus cases is without substantive significance.

The next contention of petitioner is that he was denied due process. In substance, this issue presents questions as to (1) whether the State should have allowed him to plead guilty without having first formally adjudicated the question of his mental competency and (2) whether it should have permitted him to plead at all to a capital offense without affording him the technical services of a psychiatrist.

Petitioner had been committed to an institution for mental patients in New York three years prior to the commission of the crime with which he is charged. At the New York institution his disease was diagnosed as dementia praecox. After four months he was discharged as recovered. Later, he voluntarily committed himself to the Philadelphia General Hospital for fear that he might harm someone. Ten days later he was released because there was 'no evidence of (his) having any psychosis.' These facts were presented to the trial court prior to sentencing on February 4, 1949.

In contending that Pennsylvania denied him due process by convicting him of murder on his plea of guilty without an adjudication or evidence as to his sanity, petitioner points to language used by the State Supreme Court indicating, in his view, a holding of sanity based on the plea of guilty, instead of on evidence. There that court stated that the plea of guilty was an admission of sanity, and that the evidence of petitioner's mental condition taken by the trial court after the plea of guilty went to the question of the appropriate penalty.2 The complete answer to petitioner's contentions, however, is found in the succeeding paragraph where the court said:

'If the evidence taken as to the defendant's mental condition for the purpose of enabling the court to assess the proper punishment, raised a substantial doubt as to Smith's sanity, it would have been the duty of his counsel to have moved to withdraw the plea of guilty so that a plea of 'not guilty because of insanity' could be entered. If the trial court had denied this motion the defendant could have taken an exception and on appeal this court would have decided whether or not the court in denying the motion had abused its discretion.' 364 Pa. 93, at page 113, 71 A.2d 107, at page 117.

Petitioner furthermore maintains that the sentence imposed violates due process because he was advised to plead 'not guilty' at arraignment on the snap advice of a court-designated lawyer who had never before laid eyes on petitioner. As a consequence of this off-hand plea of not guilty, petitioner contends he lost his only chance to require that his mental competency be tried at the outset by a jury.3

Assuming that such a chance was in fact lost, it does not follow that due process was denied. As pointed out above, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court emphasized that even after changing his plea to 'guilty' on the advice of counsel familiar with this case, there was still adequate opportunity to withdraw the second plea and substitute a plea of 'not guilty because of insanity' had petitioner's counsel entertained any doubt of his client's mental competency. 364 Pa. at page 113, 71 A.2d at page 117. When Pennsylvania furnished petitioner counsel for his arraignment, we cannot say his error in advising a 'not guilty' plea made all future proceedings unconstitutional when there was ample opportunity to rectify the error, if any there was, by a hearing on insanity. A claim of denial of due process can hardly be predicated upon the failure of a defense move.

This brings us to petitioner's second point: That the assistance of a psychiatrist was necessary to afford him adequate counsel. The record of the trial-court proceedings reveals that on November 5, 1948, a psychiatrist, who had examined petitioner at the court's request, testified as to petitioner's sanity at the time of the trial and at the time of the commission of the crime. In addition, on October, 28, 1948, two other psychiatrists were called by the defense to testify as to petitioner's mental...

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