Jones v. Cunningham

RESPONDENT: Cunningham
LOCATION: Beaumont Mills

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 371 US 236 (1963)
ARGUED: Dec 03, 1962
DECIDED: Jan 14, 1963

Facts of the case


Media for Jones v. Cunningham

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 03, 1962 in Jones v. Cunningham

Earl Warren:

Number 77, John R. Jones, petitioner, versus W. K. Cunningham, Superintendent of Virginia State Penitentiary.

Mr. Meador.

Daniel J. Meador:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This is a habeas corpus case which has been dismissed by the Fourth Circuit as moot.

The petitioner who is a state prisoner, had been placed on parole while his appeal was pending, and the court below considered that thereafter, he was not in custody within the meaning of the habeas corpus statute.

The question presented is whether a prisoner who has been unconstitutionally convicted and who is now on parole is to be denied any remedy in the federal courts.

In urging that he has a remedy, the petitioner relies on two propositions.

The first is that a writ of habeas corpus is available to a paroled prisoner because he continues to be restrained of his liberty when he is transferred from the custody of the penitentiary superintendent to the custody of the State Parole Board and is compelled thereafter by the Board to live in a particular town, in a particular house, to work only at a designated job and generally to confine his activities to those things which the Board directs.

The second proposition is that even if habeas corpus is held to be inappropriate, the action should not be dismissed but should be treated as a declaratory judgment action and the constitutional claim thereby adjudicated.

Now, if it please the Court, I’ll leave the second part, the declaratory judgment issue to the brief and focus discussion here on the habeas corpus question.

This action was commenced in the Federal District Court for Eastern Virginia in February 1961.

At that time, petitioner was confined at the Virginia State Prison Farm under a 10-year recidivist sentence which is the same sentence under which he continues to be held now on parole.

That sentence was based on three prior convictions, one of which was a larceny conviction, a conviction for larceny of an automobile in 1946.

In the petition filed below, it’s alleged that at that larceny trial, the petitioner -- petitioner’s constitutional right to counsel was violated.

It’s clear under the decisions in the Virginia and the federal courts that if this larceny conviction is constitutionally invalid, the recidivist sentence which is based on it is also invalid.

Petitioner alleges that at the larceny trial in 1946, the petitioner was then 20 years old that he had no money, he had no lawyer, he was not told that he was entitled to counsel, he was not aware that counsel could be appointed for him and that he did not waive his right to counsel.

The state in its return filed in the court below admitted that petitioner was not represented by a counsel at the larceny trial.

However, the state put forward two grounds for dismissal of the petition.

One was that the petitioner had already had a hearing on his constitutional claim in the state court and was not entitled to any further hearing in the federal court.

The second was that the circumstances surrounding the larceny trial in 1946 did not constitutionally require the appointment of counsel under the line of cases stemming from Betts against Brady.

The District Court relied on those two grounds in dismissing the petition without a hearing.

Thereafter, the petitioner took steps to appeal his case, still representing himself, he never had a lawyer up to that point, and he appealed to the Fourth Circuit.

The Fourth Circuit granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis, granted the certificate of probable cause and appointed counsel to present the appeal for the petitioner.

The case was then put on the calendar for argument.

Briefs were filed by both sides.

The day before the case came on to argument, June 1961, the respondent filed a motion to dismiss the appeal on the ground that it was moot since the petitioner had been granted parole and within a few days, he would be released from the State Prison Farm on parole.

Attached to this motion to dismiss was a copy of the parole order, the order issued by the Parole Board, granting parole and setting forth all the terms and conditions.

That order is a key document in this case and if the Court please, I’d like to call its attention to it in the record at page 20.

The order is backed up by Virginia statutes, one of them specifically requires a parolee to comply with all terms and conditions prescribed by the Parole Board.

Now, the order is directed to the petitioner from the Parole Board, if the Court will notice on page 20, the second paragraph of the order, “you are placed under the custody and control of the Virginia Parole Board.”