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Pennsylvania ex Rel. Herman v. Claudy, 350 U.S. 116 (1956)

Pennsylvania ex Rel. Herman v. Claudy

No. 45

Argued November 14, 1955

Decided January 9, 1956

350 U.S. 116


In a state court, petitioner pleaded guilty to numerous charges of burglary, larceny, forgery, and false pretense, and he was sentenced to imprisonment for terms aggregating from 17 1/2 to 35 years. Eight years later, he petitioned the same court for habeas corpus, claiming that his conviction was invalid under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because (1) his pleas of guilty resulted from coercion and threats by state officers, and (2) he was never advised of his right to counsel or given the benefit of counsel. The District Attorney filed an answer challenging the materiality of some of petitioner's allegations, denying others, and urging that the writ be refused because of petitioner's tardiness in challenging the judgment. The petition was dismissed summarily without a hearing.

Held: petitioner was entitled to a hearing, and the judgment is reversed. Pp. 350 U. S. 117-123.

(a) Petitioner's allegations as to his treatment prior to confession and his understanding of the nature and consequences of a guilty plea present the very kind of dispute that should be decided only after a hearing. Pp. 350 U. S. 119-121.

(b) Neither petitioner's statement at his trial that he was guilty and threw himself upon the mercy of the court nor any other statements made by him at that time were, in themselves, sufficient to refute as frivolous or false the allegations in his petition for habeas corpus concerning matters not shown by the record. P. 350 U. S. 121.

(c) The number and complexity of the charges against petitioner, as well as their seriousness, create a strong conviction that no layman could have understood the accusations, and that petitioner should have been advised of his right to be represented by counsel. P. 350 U. S. 122.

(d) The mere fact that petitioner had, without benefit of counsel, pleaded guilty to an offense two years before did not show that he had the capacity to defend himself against the numerous charges here. Gibbs v. Burke, 337 U. S. 773; Uveges v. Pennsylvania, 335 U. S. 437. Pp. 350 U. S. 122-123.

Page 350 U. S. 117

(e) Petitioner was not barred from presenting his challenge to the conviction, although eight years had passed before his petition for habeas corpus was filed. Uveges v. Pennsylvania, supra; Palmer v. Ashe, 342 U. S. 134. P. 350 U. S. 123.

(f) Petitioner's allegations were sufficient to entitle him to relief, if proven. Pp. 350 U. S. 119-120, 350 U. S. 123.

(g) Petitioner cannot be denied a hearing merely because the allegations of his petition were contradicted by the prosecuting officers, and he is entitled to relief if he can prove his charges. P. 350 U. S. 123.

Reversed and remanded.

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