Nelson v. George

LOCATION: Riverbed of the Arkansas River

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 399 US 224 (1970)
ARGUED: Mar 31, 1970
DECIDED: Jun 29, 1970

Facts of the case


Media for Nelson v. George

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 31, 1970 in Nelson v. George

Warren E. Burger:

Argument this morning is number 595 that's Nelson against George.

Mrs. Renne, you may proceed.

Louise H. Renne:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case arises on a petition for writ of certiorari filed by the warden of the California State Prison from the decision rendered by the United States Courts of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The court below held the jurisdiction existed in United States District Court for the Northern District of California to entertain a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed by a California prisoner serving a California sentence in California in order to challenge the constitutionality of an unrelated North Carolina conviction held that the California warden was an agent for the State of North Carolina and a proper party respondent to defend the action.

It is respectfully submitted that the question raised in this case is essentially one and that is whether habeas corpus relief is presently available to a California prisoner in California who seeks to challenge the constitutionality of a sentence which has been imposed by another state.

Warren E. Burger:

Mrs. Renne does the State of California have any option when another state places a detainer on a prisoner who is incarcerated in a California Institution?

Louise H. Renne:

It does Your Honor, under the Agreement on Detainer -- well, I have to answer this question in two ways, Your Honor.

If another state is not a party to the Agreement on Detainers, then in order for that prisoner to stand trial in another state requires an executive agreement followed by extradition proceedings.

Clearly in this case, the state has a reserve clause.

Under the Agreement on Detainers, a prisoner -- if a prisoner invokes the agreement on the face of the statute.

The State of California is required to send that prisoner back to the other state.

If however that it is the other state that initiates proceedings, there is a reserve clause retained by the governor may or the prisoner may disapprove and not be willing to go to the other state.

We believe Your Honor that the answer to the first question we have raised is clearly in the negative.

If the Court should however decide that habeas corpus really is presently available, then there is another question which is raised by this case and that is, what is the appropriate forum in which to bring an action of this kind?

The District of Confinement or the District of Sentencing, the facts of this case are that the petitioner below, John Edward George was in April of 1964 convicted upon his plea of guilty to first-degree robbery in the San Francisco Superior Court.

He was sentenced to state prison and under the California Indeterminate Sentence Law that is indeterminate five years to life sentence.

Following his conviction, the petitioner was confined in San Quentin Prison and detainers were placed against him by three states.

The State of Kansas, the State of Nevada, and the State of North Carolina, at this time North Carolina and California were parties to the agreement on detainers which as I have indicated.

If a prisoner seeks to stand trial in another party state, he may invoke the procedures under the agreement and that is what happened in this case.

Accordingly in March of 1966, George was temporarily released from custody in California to stand in trial in North Carolina.

After one mistrial, George was convicted of robbery in February of 1967 in the North Carolina state courts.

A sentence of 12 years to 15 years was imposed and as George alleged below, this sentence will not begin to run until he is in North Carolina.

George was returned to California in February of 1967 and in September of 1967 the North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed his conviction.

In December of 1967 George filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

His first petition was captioned John Edward George versus the State of North Carolina and the district judge dismissed the petition or failure to name proper party respondent.

Thereafter, George re-captioned his petition naming the warden of San Quentin Prison as an agent for the State of North Carolina and naming the warden of North Carolina State Prison name unknown.

Ultimately, the District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed the petition on the basis of this Court’s decision in McNally v. Hill under which the Court had held that a prisoner must be confined under the sentence he is seeking to challenge in order to obtain habeas corpus relief.

Thereafter a certificate of probable cause to appeal was granted by the District Court but prior to the opening briefs being filed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

This Court's decision in Peyton v. Rowe was decided.