Coppedge v. United States

PETITIONER: Mark Coppedge, Jr.
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 369 US 438 (1962)
ARGUED: Dec 12, 1961
DECIDED: Apr 30, 1962
GRANTED: Jun 19, 1961

Bennett Boskey - for the petitioner
Carl W. Belcher - for the respondent

Facts of the case

In early December of 1957, Mark Coppedge broke into a pharmacy and stole property, including a check writer and a batch of blank money orders that he filled in, forged, and cashed. He was tried and convicted in district court a year later, but he appealed his conviction based on information that corrupted the jury. A newspaper published an article regarding a witness who was too afraid of Coppedge to testify, which was information relayed to the judge while the jury was out of the room, and the jury should not have known. Coppedge petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit for permission to appeal in forma pauperis, which would free him from the obligation to pay court costs. The Court of Appeals denied the petition.


Was the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit justified in dismissing the petition?

Media for Coppedge v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 12, 1961 (Part 2) in Coppedge v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 12, 1961 (Part 1) in Coppedge v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 157, Mark Coppedge, Jr., Petitioner versus United States.

Mr. Boskey.

Bennett Boskey:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

The group of contempt cases which the Court has been hearing during the past few days has dealt with a rather broad range of subjects on the Federal Criminal Law and its relationship to the constitution of the United States.

The case to which we now task Coppedge against the United States deals with many other aspect of the relationship between the Federal Criminal Law and the constitution.

And the range of the subject is broad and the subjects are important.

The subjects include the very difficult and perplexing problem of the administration of justice in in forma pauperis cases in the federal court and the assurance that equal justice on the law shall be rendered to the poor as well as to the rich.

It includes problems as to the responsibilities of the grand jury of the Court of the prosecutor.

It includes questions of evidence and charges to the jury.

It includes questions of prejudicial summation as the petitioner view with the case.

Now, as the governor -- Government views the case according to its brief in this Court, all of the petitioner's contentions are frivolous.

The Government says this in 53 pages of its preventive brief.

For this reason, I should like just to pause a moment on the procedure which is taken place in the efforts of this petitioner to obtain an appellant review on the merits.

And then I shall test to the subsequent questions involved in the case.

The case involved in attempt by this petitioner to obtain a direct appellant review from a criminal conviction in the Court of -- in the District of -- Columbia District Court.

Petitioner was convicted of charges of attempting to utter -- uttering and transporting an interstate commerce, three separate forged money orders which had been stolen shortly before they were used in the manner charged in this case.

This in fact was not his first trial but his second.

His conviction at the first trial having been reversed by the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia Circuit because prejudicial newspaper articles had appeared during the course of the trial and because the Court of Appeals felt that Judge Holtzoff, who had acted as the trial Judge in the first trial of the case, had not taken sufficient steps to assure that the prejudice would not affect deliberations of the jury.

When the case was remanded, it was tried again.

And at the second trial, petitioner was represented by court appointed counsel.

After the jury's verdict was brought in and a verdict to guilty on count three through 10, the petitioner having been acquitted by the jury on the so-called housebreaking and blartney charge.

After the verdict was brought in, petitioner was sentenced by Judge Holtzoff and then he sought in the usual course to take an appeal in forma pauperis stating an indigent.

Judge Holtzoff denied his application to appeal in forma pauperis and in addition certified that the appeal was frivolous and not taken in good faith.

This, as I am sure, the Court knows from other cases which have come to you from the District of Columbia Circuit, is something which happens over and over again in the District Court in the District of Columbia and as happens almost in all of these cases.

The petitioner here --

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Mr. Boskey.

Bennett Boskey:

Yes, Mr. Justice Brennan.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Did the court appointed counsel at that play by any part?

Bennett Boskey:

Mr. Justice Brennan has now -- the court appointed counsel with relieved of his appointment by the Court and from the date on which he was relieved, it might not the 100% certain whether he did or did not play any part in the attempt to get an appeal allowed by Judge Holtzoff.

There is nothing in the record which would suggest that he provided any subsequent help to the petitioner in the --