United States v. Thomas

Decision Date23 June 1961
Docket NumberNo. 14304.,14304.
Citation291 F.2d 478
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Morris THOMAS, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

John J. Getgey, Cincinnati, Ohio (appointed by court), for defendant-appellant.

Joseph Lichtenbaum, Asst. U. S. Atty., Cincinnati, Ohio (Hugh K. Martin, U. S. Atty., Columbus, Ohio, Thomas Stueve, First Asst. U. S. Atty., Cincinnati, Ohio, on the brief), for plaintiff-appellee.

Before MILLER, Chief Judge, and MARTIN and WEICK, Circuit Judges.

SHACKELFORD MILLER, Jr., Chief Judge.

Appellant, Morris Thomas, entered a plea of guilty in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio on April 13, 1949, to an indictment which charged (1) the transportation in interstate commerce of a kidnaped person and (2) the transportation in interstate commerce of a motor vehicle knowing same to have been stolen, in violation of Sections 1201 and 2312, Title 18 United States Code, respectively. He received a sentence of 99 years imprisonment on the first count and five years imprisonment on the second count, the sentences to run consecutively.

On February 13, 1954, appellant filed a motion under Section 2255, Title 28 United States Code, to vacate the sentences on the ground that he had never intended to plead guilty to Count 1 of the indictment and that he was under the impression that he was entering a plea of guilty only to Count 2 of the indictment. The District Judge held an ex parte hearing, made findings of fact and conclusions of law, and denied the motion. On appeal, this ruling was reversed and the case remanded to the District Court for a hearing, with notice thereof to the appellant. Thomas v. United States, 6 Cir., 217 F.2d 494.

The District Court thereafter appointed counsel to represent appellant and held a hearing on August 30, 1955, at which appellant was present and testified in his own behalf. Attorneys who represented him in the original trial testified that he had entered his pleas of guilty understandingly after receiving their advice as to his constitutional and other legal rights. The District Judge made findings of fact that the appellant fully understood the nature and gravity of the charges against him and fully understood the sentences given. The motion to vacate was overruled. On appeal, this ruling was affirmed on June 15, 1956. Thomas v. United States, 6 Cir., 234 F.2d 815. Certiorari was denied by the Supreme Court on February 25, 1957, Thomas v. United States, 352 U.S. 1006, 77 S.Ct. 568, 1 L.Ed.2d 551. Rehearing was denied on April 1, 1957, Thomas v. United States, 353 U.S. 925, 77 S.Ct. 683, 1 L.Ed.2d 721.

On September 4, 1959, some ten years after entry of judgment, appellant filed a new motion in the District Court under the provisions of Section 2255, Title 28 United States Code, to vacate the sentences on the ground that he was insane and mentally incompetent at the time he entered his pleas of guilty to the indictment. The District Judge made a thorough examination of the files and records in the case and on June 1, 1960, handed down an opinion in the matter, together with findings of fact and conclusions of law, holding that the motion, files and records of the case conclusively showed that the appellant was entitled to no relief. An order was entered denying the motion to vacate. The present appeal is from this order.

Appellant contends that the Court erred in not giving him a hearing which would include an examination as to his mental condition by at least one qualified psychiatrist who would make a report to the Court, as provided by Section 4245, Title 18 United States Code.

We are of the opinion that Section 4245, Title 18 United States Code, is not applicable to the present case. The present motion to vacate sentence is not brought under that section of the Code, but is a proceeding under Section 2255, Title 28 United States Code. Section 4245, Title 18 United States Code, is only applicable when the Director of the Bureau of Prisons shall certify that a person convicted of an offense against the United States has been examined by the board of examiners referred to in Section 4241, and that there is probable cause to believe that such person was mentally incompetent at the time of his trial, provided the issue of mental competency was not raised before or during said trial. There is no such certificate in the present case. Nor has any application been made for one. This Court has held that where there was no such certificate by the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, the Court lacked jurisdiction to hold a hearing under Section 4245, Title 18 United States Code. Hoskins v. United States, 6 Cir., 251 F.2d 51. See: Cason v. United States, 4 Cir., 220 F.2d 510, certiorari denied 349 U.S. 966, 75 S.Ct. 899, 99 L.Ed. 1287.

Although appellant is not entitled to the special hearing provided by Section 4245, the question remains whether he is entitled to raise the issue of mental incompetency at the time of trial, and to have a ruling by the District Judge, in a Section 2255 proceeding. In United States v. Meadows, D.C.W.D.Mich., 140 F.Supp. 184, affirmed 6 Cir., 232 F.2d 312, this Court held that the proper procedure for raising the issue of mental incompetency at the time of trial was under Section 4245, Title 18 United States Code, and that a judgment and sentence could not be collaterally attacked on the ground of mental incompetency at the time of trial in a Section 2255 proceeding. Our ruling in that case was handed down on February 7, 1956. The same ruling was made by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Gordon v. United States, 250 F.2d 676. See also: Hahn v. United States, 10 Cir., 178 F.2d 11. However, on February 27, 1956, subsequent to our ruling in the Meadows case, the Supreme Court held that the question of mental competency at the time of trial could be raised by a motion to vacate sentence under Section 2255, Title 28 United States Code. Bishop v. United States, 96 U.S.App.D.C. 117, 223 F.2d 582, judgment vacated and the case remanded for a hearing on the sanity of the petitioner at the time of his trial, 350 U.S. 961. This ruling has been subsequently applied in several proceedings under Section 2255. Gregori v. United States, 5 Cir., 243 F.2d 48, 54; Simmons v. United States, 8 Cir., 253 F.2d 909, 912; Krupnick v. United States, 8 Cir., 264 F.2d 213, 217; Smith v. United States, 9 Cir., 267 F.2d 210, 212. This Court has also indicated since the ruling in the Bishop case that the question can be raised in a Section 2255 proceeding as well as by a Section 4245 proceeding. Davis v. United States, 6 Cir., 270 F.2d 177, certiorari denied 361 U.S. 852, 80 S.Ct. 113, 4 L.Ed.2d 91.

Accordingly, we hold that the question of appellant's mental competency at the time of the trial was raised by the present proceeding under Section 2255. But Section 2255 does not require an examination of appellant's mental condition by at least one qualified psychiatrist, as contended for by appellant on this appeal. Nor does the filing of a proceeding under Section 2255 automatically entitle the applicant to a hearing. Whether or not a hearing should be held depends upon the particular facts of each case. If the motion, files and records of the case conclusively show that the prisoner is entitled to no relief, the District Court is empowered by the provisions of the section to make a ruling to that effect without a formal hearing. Factual claims which are frivolous and obviously without merit are not sufficient to require the court to hold such a hearing. Johnson v. United States, 6 Cir., 239 F.2d 698, certiorari denied 354 U.S. 940, 77 S.Ct. 1404, 1 L.Ed.2d 1539; Rayborn v. United States, 6 Cir., 251 F.2d 950; Yancy v. United States, 6 Cir., 252 F.2d 554, 555, affirmed 362 U.S. 389, 80 S.Ct. 811, 4 L.Ed.2d 864; O'Malley v. United States, 6...

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