DOCKET NO.: 45
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1955-1956)
ARGUED: Nov 14, 1955
DECIDED: Jan 09, 1956
Facts of the case
Media for Pennsylvania ex rel. Herman v. Claudy
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 14, 1955 in Pennsylvania ex rel. Herman v. Claudy
Number 45 on the docket, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on the relation of Stephen J. Herman, Petitioner versus Dr. John W. Claudy, Warden.
Herbert Monte Levy:
Thank you, Your Honor.
You may proceed Mr. Levy.
Herbert Monte Levy:
This case is here on certiorari from the Pennsylvania Courts.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania having define to review the decision of the Pennsylvania Superior Court which affirmed the denial of the writ of habeas corpus brought to set aside the conviction that Stephen J. Herman on 27 -- 27 different offenses involving charges of burglary, larceny, and forgery.
The two claims that were raised in the petition for habeas corpus preserves throughout the appeal and now presented to this Court are claims firstly of denial of right to counsel and that Herman was never told of the right to be appointed by counsel, which we contend he had under the circumstances of this case.
And secondly, the point which my colleague Mrs. Matson shall argue, the fact that the detention of this man incommunicado for 72 hours during which he was physically assaulted and threatened with the resultant plea of guilty amounted in itself to a separate and independent violation of due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment.
And that the two factors is taken together, certainly warrant of reversal of the conviction below.
As to the facts of this case, Herman was arrested in September of 1945.
He was a youth of 21-years of age.
He had about six years of elementary school work or an education equivalent to it.
He was held for 72 hours in a women's quarters of the city jail which in itself might have had some sort of an intimidatory effect, though we won't press that point, was subjected according to the allegations of his petition to a physical assault by police officers during the course of which they grabbed him by the throat and threatened to choke him if he did not confess.
And threats were made against his safety and the safety of his wife.
He was held incommunicado during this time.
As a result of it at the end of the three days, he signed a form entitled "waiver of grand jury" an entry of plea and he agreed in that form to plead guilty to three indictments of burglary, larceny, and forgery.
In your statement of facts, you're not going give us anything except that is beyond dispute, is that it?
Herbert Monte Levy:
Let me clarify that Your Honor.
The allegations were made in the petition according to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in this case and there other decisions, allegations in the petition where there is no hearing held, and there was no hearing held here must be accepted as true unless contradicted by the record.
There were denials of some of these allegations made by the State which we consider to be irrelevant because the cases were disposed of without any hearing whatsoever.
And therefore, the Superior -- the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania where all came into play that therefore, you must look at the allegations that were made and accept them as true because uncontradicted by the record.
There is only one thing on which we were actually contradicted by the record and that was the state that made him a petition to the effect that this man did not have any knowledge of the charges against him, whereas in fact the charges have been read to him in some detail upon his guilty plea.
And so, we would want to withdraw and abandon any claim based upon that but everything else was not contradicted by the record.
Every allegation was not contradicted by the record and therefore, must be accepted as true under the Pennsylvania rule and, of course, under the rule of this case being announced in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania's rule.
When -- though he had signed an agreement to plead guilty to only three indictments he was actually held for 27 -- 27 different offenses represented by 8 indictments.
He was taken before the alderman who was equivalent there to a justice of the peace.
And the record in this case is silent as to what transpired before that alderman.
He late -- he later pleaded guilty in open court and to all of these offenses.
But, at no time was he advised to the right of counsel.
Now, the reason we consider this to be important is that the 27 different offenses for which he was facing sentence involved a possibility, a maximum potential sentence of 315 years which I would say is substantially more than life imprisonment.