Boykin v. Alabama

PETITIONER: Edward Boykin, Jr.
LOCATION: Circuit Court of Mobile County

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1969)

CITATION: 395 US 238 (1969)
ARGUED: Mar 04, 1969
DECIDED: Jun 02, 1969
GRANTED: Oct 14, 1968

David W. Clark - for the respondent
E. Graham Gibbons - for the petitioner

Facts of the case

In the spring of 1966, a series of armed robberies were committed in Mobile, Alabama. In two instances a gun was fired, and one person was injured when the bullet ricocheted off the floor. The petitioner, 27-year-old Edward Boykin, Jr., was arrested on five counts of robbery. He was provided with court-appointed counsel and pled guilty on all five counts. The judge did not ask Boykin whether he entered his plea knowingly and voluntarily, nor does the record show that Boykin was aware of his rights to trial by jury and to confront his accusers.

Pursuant to Alabama law, a jury trial determined Boykin’s punishment. Boykin did not testify and offered no evidence regarding his character. There was no evidence of a prior criminal record. The jury sentenced the petitioner to death on all five counts. The Supreme Court of Alabama affirmed the death sentence, but three justices dissented on the grounds that the record did not show the petitioner entered his plea knowingly and voluntarily.


Did the trial court commit a reversible error when it failed to confirm that the petitioner’s plea was voluntary and that he was aware of his rights?

Media for Boykin v. Alabama

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 04, 1969 in Boykin v. Alabama

Earl Warren:

Number 642, Edward Boykin, petitioner, versus Alabama.

Mr. Gibbons.

E. Graham Gibbons:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

I represent Edward Boykin Jr. who is the only man in America that awaits execution for the crime of common law robbery.

And if he is permitted to die will be the sixth man to be executed by the State of Alabama in almost 40 years for that crime.

This case is before this Court on certiorari to the Supreme Court of Alabama.

That court by a four to three decision affirmed five death sentences.

Edward Boykin was brought to trial on five separate indictments for robbery.

And a plea of guilty was entered and on that plea he was sentenced to death five times.

Now, this case as I see it raises three great constitutional issues.

The first one is that it violates the Constitution, the Due Process Clause for a conviction to be based upon a plea of guilty where in the record of trial there is no affirmative showing that that plea was voluntarily and understandingly given.

Secondly, the imposition of the death penalty for the common law robbery violates the provision of the cruel and unusual Eighth Amendment clause.

And thirdly, a statute which allows a jury unfettered discretion in a capital case violates the petitioner's right to due process.

Abe Fortas:

Mr. Gibbons --

E. Graham Gibbons:

Now --

Abe Fortas:

-- may I ask you whether that last point was raised and decided below?

I've looked for it and I haven't been able to find it.

E. Graham Gibbons:

Yes, it was --

Abe Fortas:

If it is --

E. Graham Gibbons:

-- raised below.

Abe Fortas:

Would you show me where?

Would you tell me where it is because I have looked for it and haven't found it?

E. Graham Gibbons:

Well, it was raised in my brief, I do not know whether the Supreme Court of Alabama considered it or not.

Their decision indicates that they did not.

But --

Abe Fortas:

There's nothing in there, the decision on it.

There's nothing in the papers --

E. Graham Gibbons:


No, sir.

That there is --