Coleman v. Alabama

LOCATION: New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Department

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)

CITATION: 377 US 129 (1964)
ARGUED: Mar 25, 1964
DECIDED: May 04, 1964

Facts of the case


Media for Coleman v. Alabama

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 25, 1964 in Coleman v. Alabama

Earl Warren:

Number 583, John Coleman, Petitioner, versus Alabama.

Mr. Greenberg.

Jack Greenberg:

May it please the Court.

I move the admission of Mr. Michael Meltsner of the New York bar for the purpose of arguing this case.

I'm satisfied that he has the necessary qualification.

Earl Warren:

He may be admitted.

Mr. -- Mr. Meltsner.

Michael C. Meltsner:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This is a capital case here on certiorari to the Supreme Court of Alabama and it involves the question whether the courts of that state can refuse to give petitioner an opportunity to put on evidence and then affirm his conviction because he failed to carry a burden of proof.

The facts are these, petitioner John Coleman is a Negro, who was indicted and convicted for the murder of a white man by juries of Greene County Alabama.

Greene County is in the Western part of the state, a very rural country.

Approximately 80% of the population is of the Negro race.

At petitioner's trial, it was represented by Court appointed white attorney, who failed and did not assert his constitutional rights.

The juries chose him without systematic exclusion of Negroes.

After conviction, a Negro attorney was called into the case by petitioner's family.

He filed a timely motion for new trial explicitly alleging systematic exclusion of Negroes from the grand and petit jury, and a hearing was held on this motion for new trial.

But at the hearing, counsel was not permitted to introduce testimony establishing systematic exclusion of Negroes because the trial court, at the urging of the prosecutor, took the view that the question could not be raised for the first time on motion for new trial, that it -- it had to be raised under Alabama procedure prior to the trial.

On appeal --

Is it both (Inaudible)

Michael C. Meltsner:

Yes, Your Honor.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Alabama held that petitioner had had an opportunity at the hearing on the motion for new trial to introduce evidence of systematic exclusion that he had the burden of proof and that he had not placed into evidence sufficient evidence to prove jury discrimination.

The Court said absolutely nothing about any waiver and quite clearly decided the case on a ground which made waiver moot.

Now, as the ruling of the Supreme Court of Alabama which we ask this Court to reverse is the opportunity which that Court said petitioner had on the hearing for motion for new trial to introduce evidence.

I refer the Court to that hearing which is in the record, pages 15 to 23, and mainly we're concerned with that portion of the hearing which begins on page 18.

Let's expose what happened at that hearing where the Supreme Court of Alabama says petitioner had an opportunity to carry a burden of proof and to introduce evidence of systematic exclusion.

Petitioner's counsel at the hearing attempts to place on the stand the two Circuit Solicitors who had tried petitioner in order to prove the allegations of the motion for new trial.

And on page 18, we see the response of the Circuit Solicitor.

He argues that the question has been waived and there on the 11th line at page 19, he urges to the trial court, we don't think any evidence along that line would be legal and we would object any evidence because it would just be a waste of time.

Now at this point, the trial judge says he doesn't know what petitioner's counsel would put on.

Petitioner's counsel attempts to offer proper -- the kind of proof he's willing to put on.