Klopfer v. North Carolina

PETITIONER: Peter H. Klopfer
RESPONDENT: North Carolina
LOCATION: Superior Court of Orange County North Carolina

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1965-1967)

CITATION: 386 US 213 (1967)
ARGUED: Dec 08, 1966
DECIDED: Mar 13, 1967
GRANTED: May 31, 1966

Andrew A. Vanore, Jr. - for the respondent
Wade H. Penny, Jr. - for the petitioner

Facts of the case

The State of North Carolina charged Peter Klopfer with criminal trespass when he participated in a civil rights demonstration at a restaurant. At trial, the jury could not reach a verdict. The Superior Court judge continued the case twice when the state moved for a nolle prosequi with leave. This would allow the state to suspend their prosecution indefinitely and return the case to the docket in the future. Klopfer objected, arguing that the motion violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial, but the judge granted the state’s request. On appeal, the Supreme Court of North Carolina affirmed, holding that the right to a speedy trial does not include the right to compel the state to prosecute.


Does the nolle prosequi deny Klopfer his constitutional right to a speedy trial?

Media for Klopfer v. North Carolina

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 08, 1966 in Klopfer v. North Carolina

Earl Warren:

Number 100, Peter H. Klopfer versus North Carolina.

Mr. Penny.

Wade H. Penny, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case is before this Court on writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the State of North Carolina.

That court in a decision rendered in January of this year held that the State of North Carolina acting through its solicitor and the trial court made by procedural device known under North Carolina law as a nolle prosequi with leave permanently and completely deprived by criminal defendant of his day in court.

At this point, I would like to emphasize that although discussion of the right to a speedy trial normally proceeds from a concern with what is an unreasonable delay.

Here, the State of North Carolina takes the unprecedented, we submit, view that the state may permanently and completely deprive a defendant of his day in court and in doing so repudiates the basic principle of our system of law that every man accused to crime regardless of the degree of the offense or its seriousness, regardless of his station in life is nevertheless unequivocally entitled to his day in court to establish his innocence and with the opportunity to secure his exoneration.

At the outset, I would like to emphasize that this petitioner's contact with the State of North Carolina is no frivolous skirmish.

This defendant was first indicted in February of 1964 for the grand jury of Orange County upon a bill of indictment charging him with trespass which under North Carolina law is punishable both by a sentence and fine or either one of the two.

Pursuant to that bill of indictment of February this defendant was brought to trial at the special criminal session in March of 1964 and after a lengthy trial the jury was unable to agree whereupon this defendant was then directed to appear in court on the following Monday.

However, no further proceeding was taken in March with a crowded criminal docket at that time in Orange County for one reason or another.

The case although it appeared once or twice on the criminal docket there was no further trial proceeding and then in the spring of 1965, counsel for the petitioner inquired of the state as to what the state's position in this case would be in the light of the passage of the 1964 Federal Civil Rights Act and even more in point this Court's decision in Hamm versus City of Rock Hill applying that act retroactively.

The Solicitor indicated as the record shows that he intended to take what is known as is nolle prosequi with leave.

In April of 1965 when this case was once again on the docket of Orange County Superior Court, this petitioner through his counsel appeared in open court and objected to that procedural point being taken by the State of North Carolina and entered in the record.

The court animated at that time that it agreed with the state that it might have the nolle prosequi entered.

Then the Solicitor having a change of heart decided that he wanted the case back on the trial calendar right at that moment in open court.

Now, the next session of the Orange County Superior Court then occurred in August of 1965.

Prior to that session of court, it was ascertained that this petitioner's case was not on the trial docket and then an effort to bring the matter to some conclusion, petitioner filed a motion in the Orange County Superior Court wherein he outlined the chronology as to the issuance of the indictment and this prior context with the court, and further urged upon the court that he have an affirmative defense to any further attempt to prosecute this case.

In that first of all, this prosecution arose out of a set of circumstances which constitute or which where in the course of a civil rights demonstration wherein the petitioner assault service that I placed which he contended in this motion was a place of public accommodation.

He referred in that motion to the Civil Rights Act, to his contention that Hamm applied -- the Hamm decision applied in his case and in more particular cited the superior court to the case rendered by this Court in 1965 Blow versus North Carolina applying the Civil Rights Act under the Hamm decision retroactively and pointed out in his motion that the facts in his case where as to the operative facts very similar to the Blow decision.

At no point in the record or in this record before the Court that the State of North Carolina ever seriously contend or ever contend at all for that matter that the statement in this motion where incorrect.

Byron R. White:


Wade H. Penny, Jr.:

Mr. Justice White we got a ruling in the sense that at the conclusion of the motion and presentation open court, the state renewed its motion for that an entry being made of nolle prosequi with leave and that was granted.

Byron R. White:


Wade H. Penny, Jr.:

No, Your Honor that they never, the court never attempt to go into the --

Byron R. White:

But you never had a rule position on that point.

Wade H. Penny, Jr.:

Well the motion act, the motion did not immediately request the ruling on the merits of that contention.

What it did request was that the State of North Carolina be directed to proceed in accordance with law and to allow this defendant an opportunity to present those contentions in orderly procedure in the state court, so what we actually asked for a motion was that the judge inquiring to why the State of North Carolina was not willing to give this defendant his day in court in order to urge this point.

Byron R. White:

What procedure do you have there to quash an indictment or information on the grounds that it can't go forward because it's constitutionally even?

Do you have a motion to dismiss or motion to quash?