Ferguson v. Georgia

LOCATION: Circuit Court of Montgomery County

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)

CITATION: 365 US 570 (1961)
ARGUED: Nov 14, 1960 / Nov 15, 1960
DECIDED: Mar 27, 1961

Facts of the case


Media for Ferguson v. Georgia

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 15, 1960 in Ferguson v. Georgia

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 14, 1960 in Ferguson v. Georgia

Earl Warren:

Number 44, Billy Ferguson, Appellant, versus Georgia.

Mr. Maxwell.

Paul James Maxwell:

Chief Justice Warren, this Honorable Court pleases.

This is an appeal from the Supreme Court of the State of Georgia.

Billy Ferguson, the appellant in this case, a 19-year-old boy who is arrested without a warrant in July the 17th, 1958 at Douglasville, Georgia.

He was immediately taken to the jail and locked up, where he was questioned for approximately seven hours by about five or six policemen, deputy sheriffs and Georgia Bureau of Investigation officers.

All of whom refused to take this boy before committing magistrate on the Georgia law to inform amicus right to have counsel.

And after being confined in jail, he was then being questioned.

He was forced to take a paraffin test.

He was finally and mentally coerced into making a confession.

William O. Douglas:

Would you speak up a little bit careful?

What kind of a test was he --

Paul James Maxwell:

Paraffin test, Your Honor.

Paraffin test.

William O. Douglas:

But could you describe what -- what the paraffin test is?

Paul James Maxwell:

Paraffin test, Your Honor, is where they put wax, as I understand it, on your hand to see whether you have fired a gun or not, to see if you had recently fired a pistol or a gun.

He was indicted by the grand jury on September the 15th, 1958 which was approximately two months after he was arrested.

He was tried on September the 23rd, 1958 and found guilty and sentenced to death by electrocution.

The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the lower court.

Now, this Honorable Court pleases, we contend that this appellant has been denied his constitutional rights before his trial, during his trial and after his trial.

He was not given we contend a fair impartial and legal trial.

Now, if this Court pleases, Georgia has to say the very least a unique and a distinctive law which is called Section 38-415 in which will be found set out on page 3 of the appellant's brief in which I would like at this time to read.

In all criminal trials, the prisoner shall have the right to make to the court jury just such statements on the case as he may deem improper in his defense.

It shall not be under oath and shall have such force only as a jury who may think right to give it.

They may believe in preference to the sworn and testimony in the case.

The prisoner shall not be compelled to answer any questions on cross-examination should he think proper to decline to answer.

Now, Georgia Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the defense lawyer has no right to ask or assist the defendant in any way when he is on the stand.

It is our contention, if this Honorable Court pleases, that this Code Section 38-415, as construed by the Supreme Court of Georgia, is invalid under both the Due Process and the Equal Protection Clause of the Federal Constitution.

Now, I would like to say right here, if the Court pleases, that when I first moved to Georgia about eight years ago, I was indeed surprised that this unique law but I was more surprised that while the Code Section has been in operation since I believe 1868 and there have been hundred of cases taken up to the Supreme Court of the State of Georgia regarding its logic and other factories, no one ever raised the constitutional validity of that statute until I attempted to do so in the Corbin case which is 212 Georgia, page 231 where in the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that I -- it was not properly raised and therefore refused to pass on it.

And it was brought to this Court on certiorari and of course declined.