Douglas v. California

PETITIONER: William Douglas and Bennie Will Meyes
RESPONDENT: California
LOCATION: Labor Union Protest

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 372 US 353 (1963)
ARGUED: Apr 17, 1962
REARGUED: Jan 16, 1963
DECIDED: Mar 18, 1963

Burton Marks - argued and reargued for the petitioners
Jack E. Goertzen - Deputy Attorney General of California, argued and reargued for the respondent
Marvin M. Mitchelson - argued and reargued for the petitioners
William E. James - Assistant Attorney General of California, argued and reargued for the respondent

Facts of the case

William Douglas and Bennie Will Meyes, two indigent men, were arrested and charged with thirteen felonies, including armed robbery and assault with intent to commit murder. A single public defender represented both defendants. The public defender asked the trial court for a continuance because he was unprepared, there was a conflict of interest between the two defendants, and Douglas requested a new attorney. The judge denied the request for a continuance. The defendants then requested that the public defender be removed from the case. The judge granted that request but denied their request to appoint a new attorney. The defendants completed the trial without any representation. A jury found the defendants guilty of all thirteen felonies.

The defendants appealed. The Second District Court of Appeals for California’s Third District did not appoint counsel to represent the defendants, because, based on their review of the record, appointing counsel would add no benefit to the defendants’ case. Following this decision, that court affirmed the trial court’s decision.


Did the trial court’s refusal to appoint new counsel violate the defendants’ equal protection rights?

Media for Douglas v. California

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 17, 1962 in Douglas v. California

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - January 16, 1963 in Douglas v. California

Earl Warren:

William Douglas and Bennie Will Meyes, Petitioners, versus California.

Mr. Mitchelson.

Marvin M. Mitchelson:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

Just to briefly summarize, this is of course a case for reargument.

It's a case where two admittedly indigent defendants went through a criminal trial which involved 13 felony counts, all of a rather complicated nature.

One of the felony counts being, an assault with an attempt to commit murder that were reasons to be discussed, counsel was dismissed by the two defendants at the inception of the trial.

Both defendants sat mute through the entire trial.

It raises questions of due process of whether or not there was an effective appointment of counsel and also, what is raised in this case is whether or not as a matter of right on an appeal an indigent defendant should have the absolute right to have counsel appointed.

Now, since our last hearing, there has been a supplemental brief filed by both the petitioners and respondents' answer to that supplemental brief, and my brother Goertzen to my right here has pointed out in his supplemental brief, has made an offer to lodge the murder trial record with this Court.

Your Honors may recall there were two murder trials, one was a hung jury.

Then there was a second murder trial in which the defendant, Douglas was acquitted and Meyes was convicted of second degree murder.

After that, there was an indictment of both defendants as to robberies, these 13 counts of robberies, and I might point out to the Court in this regard that these 13 robberies that were testified to at this trial -- at this appeal that we're considering here were extensively discussed in the earlier two murder trials.

By that, I mean, that the same witnesses virtually, the entire cast of witnesses who appeared to testify against the defendants in this matter here testified at both murder trials.

John M. Harlan II:

Was the murder charged of felony murder?

Marvin M. Mitchelson:


John M. Harlan II:

The same felony?

Marvin M. Mitchelson:

Yes, Your Honor, that's true.

It was a murder charge of the killing of a police officer.

Now, I will come to my brother Goertzen's suggestion to lodge that transcript with the Court, because if the Court would be interested to look at that transcript, although we don't wish to overburden the Court of matters outside the record, in a way, it's inextricably tied up into this case, because I believe that that record will indicate to this Court the following information that really hasn't come before the Court.

The judge in the first murder case, Judge Roth was the judge who tried these defendants in this matter here, the same judge who refused or -- dismissed counsel after defendants indicated that they didn't want counsel to represent them.

The same judge that refused to recognize the conflict of interest and denied all of the defendants' motions.

We'll also indicate to this Court that the judge who tried the first murder trial, the same judge in this case, disqualified himself to hear the second murder trial.

That's an interesting fact because, obviously, he felt that there was some conflict that he should hear this matter a second time, so by the time he came to these robbery trials, he felt that there was no conflict despite a motion being made by the Public Defender Atkins that they should be disqualified under 170.6, which is our statute for --

Earl Warren:

Did he disqualify himself for any stated reason or just to recuse himself.

Marvin M. Mitchelson:

Well, in California, we don't have to state the reason --

Earl Warren:

I know that.

Marvin M. Mitchelson:

Yes, Your Honor.

Earl Warren:

Did he?

Marvin M. Mitchelson:

He just filed a general disqualification that he had heard -- that he should disqualify himself under -- right.

Now it would also reveal -- you see there's been much talk of whether or not there could be any possible conflict.