RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts
DOCKET NO.: 68
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
CITATION: 368 US 424 (1962)
ARGUED: Dec 05, 1961
DECIDED: Jan 22, 1962
Facts of the case
Media for Hill v. United States
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 05, 1961 in Hill v. United States
James Francis Hill, Petitioner, versus United States.
Curtis R. Reitz:
If the Court please, the petitioner in this case is seeking relief from an illegal sentence imposed by a Federal District Court on June 4, 1954.
He had been found guilty of transporting a stolen motor vehicle in interstate commerce and of transporting across state lines a person who had been kidnapped and held for ransom.
The transcript of what transpired at the sentencing proceeding is in the record of page 18 and is the core of this case, beginning about two-thirds of the way down the page.
It's quite brief.
First, the court said, does the Government cared to say anything, this was following the conviction and counsel for the Government said that he did not care to make a statement that the character of the defendant and his other crimes had been developed in proof during the course of the trial.
The court then inquired whether his memory was correct as to the disposition of other -- of the defendants in these cases and the counsel for the Government replied that the one defendant had received the15-year sentence and a 2-year sentence and the -- that a minor had received a smaller sentence.
The Court said, that's the way I remembered it, and they are found on page 19 of the record without any further inquiry, the Court proceeded to impose sentence.
Specifically, the Court did not inquire of the defendant whether he wanted to make a statement in his own behalf.
He did not inquire whether the defendant wished to present any information in litigation of the punishment.
Nor did they make any such inquiries of counsel.
There were absolutely no questions at all in the record which would constitute a compliance of Rule 32 (a) of the Rules of Criminal Procedure which is the underlying rule in this case.
The rule which is in petitioner's brief on page 2 states the relevant portion of the second sentence of 32 (a), “before imposing sentence, the Court shall afford the defendant an opportunity to make a statement in his own behalf and to present any information for litigation and punishment.
In light of this Court's decision last term in Green versus United States, it is plain on the face of the record that there has been a violation of Rule 32 (a) and that point, I may say, is not in contest any longer in this case.
The Government now concedes in this Court for the first time that there has been a violation of Rule 32 (a) in the treatment of the petitioner in this case.
In the lower courts, the Government took precisely the opposite position.
The case now comes before the Court of course in a petition for collateral relief.
On October 21, 1959, petitioner filed a motion to vacate the sentences based upon several grounds and that motion is in the record at page 26.
The District Court summarily denied the motion without any proceedings whatsoever, writing an opinion which is found on page 41.
The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed in the brief per curiam opinion and then this Court granted certiorari limited, however, to a specific question whether petitioner may raise his claim under the Federal Criminal Rule 32 (a) in the proceeding he has now brought.
The other issues which were raised by petitioner in his motion for relief are therefore not presently relevant.
In a sense, I suppose, this case is a continuation of where the Green case left off last term.
The Court then did not have to decide whether or not collateral relief was available in the case was a violation of 32 (a) because on the facts, four members of the Court found that 32 (a) had been complied with and Mr. Justice Stewart was of the opinion that the rule should have prospective operation only in requiring a specific question addressed to the defendant.
So the question now before the Court in view of the clear, plain violation of 32 (a) is the one not decided in Green which is whether a collateral remedy is available for this violation.
In raising this question, petitioner sought relief under Section 2255 of the Judicial Code.
At the present time, I would like first to argue that he is entitled to relief under Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.
The Government does not challenge the possibility of interchanging the remedy at this stage and I will explain later why I think it is perhaps important to the defendant that this be done.
Rule 35 provides, and it's on page 2 of petitioner's brief, the Court may correct an illegal sentence at any time.
The Green case, the Court will recall, was specifically raised under Rule 35 and decided in light of that rule and the question now relevant is whether or not this is an illegal sentence.