McNeal v. Culver

LOCATION: John H. Kerr Dam and Reservoir

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)

CITATION: 365 US 109 (1961)
ARGUED: Dec 06, 1960
DECIDED: Jan 23, 1961

Facts of the case


Media for McNeal v. Culver

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 06, 1960 in McNeal v. Culver

Earl Warren:

Elijah McNeal, Jr., Petitioner, versus R. O. Culver, the State Prison Custodian.

Mr. Daniels.

Sam Daniels:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

The petitioner is serving a 20-year sentence imposed upon him by the State of Florida.

At present, he has 17 more years to serve.

The underlying issue in this case is whether --

Potter Stewart:

How much longer to serve?

I missed it.

Sam Daniels:

17 years, Your Honor.

Potter Stewart:


Sam Daniels:

The underlying issue in this case is whether the State of Florida denied him due process of law when it tried, convicted and sentenced him while he was admittedly unrepresented by counsel.

At the outset, I would like to summarize the petitioner's position.

First, it is our contention that under the decisions of this Court, due process requires the State to offer or furnish counsel to a prisoner in a noncapital case whenever there are special circumstances which show that without representation by counsel, the petitioner or the prisoner cannot have a fair and adequate defense.

In turning to the special circumstances which we contend exists in the present record, we say that there are six.

They are these, first, ignorance, second, mental illness, third, complicated substantive issues involved in the trial, fourth, difficult evidentiary problems, fifth, the use of inadmissible testimony, entirely prejudicial testimony to convict and sixth, the fact that the unrepresented petitioner received no aid from the trial judge in guiding him pass the errors which make trial without counsel unfair.

The issue comes to this Court in the following manner.

In 1959, the petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Supreme Court of Florida.

He contended in this petition that he was denied due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America.

In support of his contention, he alleged the following, that he was tried in the Criminal Court of Record in Polk County, Florida on an indictment charging him with "Assault to Murder in the First Degree".

He alleged that he was a 29-year-old Negro, that he had never been in court before, that he did not understand court procedure and that he did not know how to defend himself and establish his innocence.

He further allege in his petition before the Florida Supreme Court that he requested the Court to appoint him a lawyer and that in response to that request, the Court told him, "You are not entitled to a lawyer as this is not a capital case and further, you won't need a lawyer in this case."

The petition also alleges that a request was made for a copy of the information and the Court denied the request.

It goes on to allege that the State picked the jury in the case, that the information was read and that the trial had commenced.

When the trial was over, petitioner was convicted of "Assault to Murder in the Second Degree" and a 20-year-sentence was imposed upon him.

Potter Stewart:

How long was the trial take?

Sam Daniels:

The trial took one day, Your Honor.

We cannot tell from the record whether it was a morning and afternoon or just a morning but it began and ended on the day it started.

Earl Warren:

How long was the transcript, Mr. Daniels?

Sam Daniels:

The transcript of the testimony of the State's witnesses is 12 pages, Your Honor.

Earl Warren:

12 pages.