Blackburn v. Alabama

LOCATION: Bonneville Dam

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)

CITATION: 361 US 199 (1960)
ARGUED: Dec 10, 1959
DECIDED: Jan 11, 1960

Facts of the case


Media for Blackburn v. Alabama

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 10, 1959 (Part 2) in Blackburn v. Alabama

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 10, 1959 (Part 1) in Blackburn v. Alabama

Earl Warren:

Number 50, Jesse Blackburn, versus -- Petitioner, versus Alabama.

Mr. Hobbs.

Truman M. Hobbs:

Mr. Chief Justice, Honorable Associate Justices of the Court.

11 years ago, Jesse Blackburn, a young Negro, been a young Negro, was taken into custody by the State of Alabama on the charge of robbery.

He has been continuously held in the custody of Alabama from that date to this.

The first five years, he was detained in an insane asylum in the State of Alabama under the adjudication by the Circuit Court of Colbert County, that he was insane.

For the last six years, he has been detained in prison in Alabama on an adjudication by the Circuit Court of Colbert County that he was not insane.

If this seems arbitrary and inconsistent, we think the facts will abundantly show that it is just that.

Petitioner was before this Court at the 1956 term, seeking the reversal of his conviction on the ground that the confession upon which his conviction was predicated was involuntary and hence denied him the due process of law guaranteed to all persons under the Fourteenth Amendment of our Constitution.

This Court vacated the judgment of conviction and remanded the case to the Courts of Alabama because of uncertainty in the record as to whether the Courts of Alabama had passed upon petitioner's constitutional rights.

The opinion of the Court of Appeal which is set out in the record, makes abundantly clear at this point, that the Courts of Alabama have passed upon the constitutional rights of the petitioner under the Fourteenth Amendment and have rejected his contentions under that Section of the Constitution.

The conviction and sentence imposed by the Circuit Court of Colbert County on petitioner was to 20 years imprisonment.

The facts concerning the weight that this confession was obtained, came entirely from the Deputy Sheriff who procured the confession.

This was necessarily so because petitioner was -- Jesse Blackburn was unable to recall any of the events leading up to his arrest, his confinement in prison and indeed for some months or years after he was committed to the insane asylum in Alabama.

The medical records of this petitioner reveal that, he had already had a determination by medical doctors, was apart of his record, that he did suffer recurrently from prolonged period of amnesia.

Whether this was the reason that at the trial, he couldn't recall of whether it was the treatment given him in the hospital in Alabama which as you know, with respect to schizophrenic, frequently include shock treatment whether that was the reason he couldn't recall any of this circumstances, we don't know, but the fact remains that the sole testimony did come from the Deputy Sheriff.

Potter Stewart:

Would you think that they found that there is a regional confinement to the asylum was upon a formal adjudication of insanity?

Truman M. Hobbs:

Yes, sir.

Potter Stewart:

Not just that interim two judge -- two doctors business or something --

Truman M. Hobbs:

There was, Your Honor.

That the -- the Circuit judge in Colbert County had it -- his attention -- called to the fact that it was ground for believing Blackburn was insane.

He then called two local doctors in.

They examined him and -- and indicated that they agree with the conclusion that there was probable ground for believing he was insane.

And then there was a three – three-doctor board that passed on his sanity, and this board was unanimously of the opinion that he was insane.

Following this determination by the three-man-board, there was a formal adjudication by the Circuit Court that he was insane and he was then transmitted to Mt. Vernon, the insane hospital, in Alabama and he was forcibly detained there, as is shown by the fact that he escape and was --

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

I have to -- what was the procedure by which, as I understand it, five years later, it was determined that he was now sane enough to stand in trial?

Truman M. Hobbs:

The doctors, the hospital -- the insane hospital of Alabama in which he was committed, set to the Circuit Court of Colbert County in a memorandum to the effect that in the opinion of the -- authorities that were holding him, he was now sufficiently restored his sanity to stand trial.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

That was the extent of remedy?

Truman M. Hobbs:

Yes, sir.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

May I ask, was the adjudication, the original adjudication and the adjudication of insanity, as of the date of the commission of the alleged crime?