Napue v. Illinois

LOCATION: Roosevelt Bar and Tavern

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)

CITATION: 360 US 264 (1959)
ARGUED: Apr 30, 1959
DECIDED: Jun 15, 1959

Facts of the case


Media for Napue v. Illinois

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 30, 1959 in Napue v. Illinois

Earl Warren:

Number 583, Henry Napue, Petitioner, versus People of the State of Illinois.

Mr. Leighton, you may proceed.

George N. Leighton:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This Court granted certiorari to review the judgment of the Supreme Court of Illinois in which post-conviction relief was denied to the petitioner.

The federal question is whether petitioner was denied due process of law in the Illinois criminal court because perjury was knowingly used in obtaining petitioner's conviction for the alleged crime of murder.

Petitioner is now serving a sentence of 199 years in the Illinois State Penitentiary pursuant to the state court conviction.

In its judgment to the opinion, the Supreme Court of Illinois held that there was perjury knowingly used in petitioner's prosecution.

The facts arose in this fashion, if Your Honors please.

In an indictment in the state court, the petitioner was prosecuted for a crime that was alleged to have been committed in 1938.

The trial took place in 1940.

The principal witness against the petitioner was a man who previously had plead guilty under a separate indictment in which he was charged with the same murder.

He was the only witness that the prosecution could rely upon because the other alleged eyewitnesses had moved away from Illinois.

It is conceded by the prosecution in this particular case that without this man's testimony, the petitioner's conviction could not have been obtained.

The man's name was Hamer.

He was bought back from the penitentiary on habeas corpus.

On cross-examination, counsel for petitioner here, the defendant in the original prosecution, asked this witness whether or not he was testifying freely and voluntarily, and he said, "Yes," that he was.

On redirect examination, the prosecutor asked this witness directly, “Has the judge,” naming the judge, “promised you any consideration for your sentence,” and there was a negative answer.

And then he asked him, “Have I,” meaning himself, the prosecutor, “promised you any consideration?”

And there was a negative answer.

The witness was dismissed.

Some six years later, this prosecutor resigned from the Office of the State's Attorney of Cook County.

And on his own, filed what in Illinois is called a coram nobis petition.

At that time, the post-conviction law of Illinois had not been adopted.

It was supported by this prosecutor's affidavit in which he described in detail the agreement that had existed between him and this witness by which this witness promised that he would testify against the petitioner and furnish evidence which the prosecutor thought was indispensable to obtain his conviction in return for an expressed promise that he, the prosecutor, would recommend to the appropriate authorities the reduction of this witness' then 199-year sentence.

In fact, the prosecutor was so strong in his language that he characterized this agreement as a compact between this witness and the lawfully instituted authorities of the State of Illinois in return for his testimony against the petitioner, flatly contradicting the testimony of this principal witness at the trial.

The petitioner then obtained a copy of this coram nobis petition and this affidavit of this prosecutor and made it a part of his application for post-conviction review in the Illinois court.

There was a hearing held and relief was denied.

There was a petition for writ of error to the Supreme Court of Illinois, and the Supreme Court affirmed, holding as a matter of fact that there was perjury and that it was knowingly used according to the dissenting opinion construing the majority opinion, five judges voting for affirmance and two judges dissenting including the Chief Justice of the State of Illinois.

But the majority opinion went on the ground that this perjury, though it was used, somehow, the Supreme Court said, was explained to the jury by what they characterized as subsequent testimony.

A reading of the record, as we point out in the brief, shows that when Hamer testified in direct answer to the questions put to him on redirect examination, there was no further testimony by Hamer, and there is no evidence of any other kind going to the jury.