United States v. Hayman

Decision Date07 January 1952
Docket NumberNo. 23,23
Citation96 L.Ed. 232,72 S.Ct. 263,342 U.S. 205
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 205-206 intentionally omitted] Mr. Robert L. Stern, Washington, D.C., for the United States.

Mr. Paul A. Freund, Cambridge, Mass., for respondent.

Mr. Chief Justice VINSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

In its 1948 revision of the Judicial Code, Congress provided that prisoners in custody under sentence of a fed- eral court may move the sentencing court to vacate, set aside or correct any sentence subject to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C. (Supp. IV) § 2255, 28 U.S.C.A. § 2255.1

Respondent, confined at the McNeil Island penitentiary in the Western District of Washington,2 invoked this new procedure by filing a motion to vacate his sentence and grant a new trial in the District Court for the Southern District of California. That court had imposed a sentence of twenty years' imprisonment in 1947 for forging Government checks and related violations of federal law. 3

In his motion, respondent alleged that he did not enjoy the effective assistance of counsel guaranteed defendants in federal courts by the Sixth Amendment. Specifically he alleged that one Juanita Jackson, a principal witness against respondent as his trial and a defendant in a related case, was represented by the same lawyer as respondent. Respondent claims that he was not told of the dual representation and that he had no way of discovering the conflict until after the trial was over. It appeared from court records that Juanita Jackson testified against respondent after entering a plea of guilty but before sentence. Since a conflict in the interests of his attorney might have prejudiced respondent under these circumstances, the sentencing court and the court below, one judge dissenting, found that the allegations of respondent's motion warranted a hearing. Respondent's motion requested the issuance of an order to secure his presence at such a hearing.

For three days, the District Court received testimony in connection with the issues of fact raised by the motion. This proceeding was conducted without notice to respondent and without ordering the presence of respondent. On the basis of this ex parte investigation, the District Court found as a fact that respondent's counsel had also represented Juanita Jackson but that he 'did so only with the knowledge and consent, and at the instance and request of (respondent).' Pursuant to this finding, the District Court entered an order denying respondent's motion to vacate his sentence and to grant a new trial.

On appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit,4 the majority, acting sua sponte, raised questions as to the adequacy and constitutionality of Section 2255. The court addressed itself to the provision that an application for a writ of habeas corpus 'shall not be entertained' where the sentencing court has denied relief 'unless it also appears that the remedy by motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.' Considering that the proceedings in the District Court were proper under the terms of Section 2255, the court below held, one judge dissenting, that the Section 2255 procedure could not be adequate or effective in this case and, in the alternative, that the Section, in precluding resort to habeas corpus, amounted to an unconstitutional 'suspension' of the writ of habeas corpus as to respondent.5

On rehearing below, and again in this Court, the Government conceded that respondent's motion raised factual issues which required respondent's presence at a hearing. The Court of Appeals, however, refused either to affirm the denial or respondent's motion or to accept the Government's concession and remand the case for a hearing with respondent present. Instead, it treated Section 2255 as a nullity and ordered respondent's motion dis- missed so that respondent might proceed by habeas corpus in the district of his confinement. 187 F.2d 456.

We granted certiorari in this case, 1951, 341 U.S. 930, 71 S.Ct. 803, 95 L.Ed. 1360, to review the decision that Section 2255 must be considered a nullity, a holding that stands in conflict with cases decided in other circuits.6 We do not reconsider the concurrent findings of both courts below that respondent's motion states grounds to support a collateral attack on his sentence and raises substantial issues of fact calling for an inquiry into their verity.

First. The need for Section 2255 is best revealed by a review of the practical problems that had arisen in the administration of the federal courts' habeas corpus jurisdiction.

Power to issue the writ of habeas corpus,' the most celebrated writ in the English law,'7 was granted to the federal courts in the Judiciary Act of 1789, 1 Stat. 73, 81—82. Since Congress had not defined the term 'habeas corpus,' resort to the common law was necessary.8 Al- though the objective of the Great Writ long has been the liberation of those unlawfully imprisoned, at common law a judgment of conviction rendered by a court of general criminal jurisdiction was conclusive proof that confinement was legal. Such a judgment prevented issuance of the writ without more.9

In 1867, Congress changed the commonlaw rule by extending the writ of habeas corpus to 'all cases where any person may be restrained of his or her liberty in violation of the constitution, or of any treaty or law of the United States', and providing for inquiry into the facts of detention. 14 Stat. 385. In commenting on the 1867 Act this Court has said:

'The effect is to substitute for the bare legal review that seems to have been the limit of judicial authority under the common-law practice, and under the act of 31 Car. II, chap. 2, a more searching investigation, in which the applicant is put upon his oath to set forth the truth of the matter respecting the causes of his detention, and the court, upon determining the actual facts, is to 'dispose of the party as law and justice require.'

'* * * a prisoner in custody pursuant to the final judgment of a * * * court of criminal jurisdiction may have a judicial inquiry in a court of the United States into the very truth and substance of the causes of his detention, although it may become necessary to look behind and beyond the record of his conviction to a sufficient extent to test the jurisdiction of the * * * court to proceed to judgment against him. * * *'10 Under the 1867 Act,11 United States District Court have jurisdiction to determine whether a prisoner has been deprived of liberty in violation of constitutional rights, although the proceedings resulting in incarceration may be unassailable on the face of the record. Under that Act, a variety of allegations have been held to permit challenge of convictions on facts dehors the record.12

One aftermath of these developments in the law has been a great increase in the number of applications for habeas corpus filed in the federal courts by state and federal prisoners. The annual volume of applications had nearly tripled in the years preceding enactment of Section 2255.13 In addition to the problems raised by a large volume of applications for habeas corpus that are repetitious14 and patently frivolous, serious administrative problems developed in the consideration of applications which appear meritorious on their face. Often, such ap- plications are found to be wholly lacking in merit when compared with the records of the sentencing court. But, since a habeas corpus action must be brought in the district of confinement,15 those records are not readily available to the habeas corpus court.

Walker v. Johnston, 1941, 312 U.S. 275, 61 S.Ct. 574, 85 L.Ed. 830, illustrates a further practical problem presented when an application for habeas corpus alleges a meritorious claim not controverted by the records of the trial court. In the Northern District of California, Walker alleged that he had been denied counsel and coerced into pleading guilty by the United States Attorney, his assistant and a deputy marshal in the Northern District of Texas. The District Court for the Northern District of California refused to grant the writ after receiving ex parte affidavits from the federal officers denying the allegations. This Court reversed, finding that Walker's application raised material issues of fact and holding that the District Court must determine such issues by the taking of evidence, not by ex parte affidavits.16 Granting the need for such a hearing to resolve the factual issues, the required hearing had to be held in the habeas corpus court in California although the federal officers involved were stationed in Texas and the facts occurred in Texas.17

These practical problems have been greatly aggravated by the fact that the few District Courts in whose territorial jurisdiction major federal penal institutions are lo- cated were required to handle an inordinate number of habeas corpus actions far from the scene of the facts, the homes of the witnesses and the records of the sentencing court solely because of the fortuitous concentration of federal prisoners within the district.18

Second. The Judicial Conference of the United States,19 addressing itself to the problems raised by the increased habeas corpus business in 1942, created a committee of federal judges 'to study the entire subject of procedure on applications for habeas corpus in the federal courts.'20 At the next session of the Conference, the Committee on Habeas Corpus Procedure submitted its report. After extensive consideration, the Judicial Conference recom- mended adoption of two proposed bills, a 'procedural bill' containing provisions designed to prevent abuse of the habeas corpus writ and a 'jurisdictional bill,' Section 2 of which established a procedure whereby a federal prisoner might collaterally attack his conviction in the sentencing court.21 The Judicial Conference repeatedly reaffirmed its approval of this...

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