LOCATION: District Court of Massachusetts
DOCKET NO.: 115
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
CITATION: 365 US 525 (1961)
ARGUED: Mar 02, 1961
DECIDED: Mar 20, 1961
Facts of the case
Media for Reynolds v. Cochran
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 02, 1961 in Reynolds v. Cochran
-- habitual offender of the statute.
Now, the reason I say that it appears that the Florida Supreme Court has not decided the question is this.
In the subsequent case of Milan versus the State, a Florida case in 1958, when that question was presented, then the Court erred -- as to the second question, their Supreme Court had said -- the -- the Supreme Court of Florida held that the general statutes of limitations barred prosecution for an offense.
Now, here is the language of the Court, "The first of the above questions," as quote, "is not before the Court because there is no showing that appellant had actually said his entire sentence for the second offense, before the amended information was filed, charging him with being a second offender."
On this question, there is a difference of opinion among the members of the Court but as it is not right for determination under the record here, no useful purpose could be served by discussing it.
Now, what our suggestion want to do that the Florida Supreme Court in that later case, indicating that they didn't decide this question because there was a difference of opinion among the Justices of the Court, this Court might well apply the doctrine that where the State Supreme Court has not made an authoritative interpretation of a statute, this Court, when the matter is properly before it, may place its own interpretation upon the statute which in this case, to avoid the question of unconstitutionality on the ground of not observing due process, would require the Court to construe the statute to mean as the Court, in the Nelson case indicated, it might have been intended to mean that it only gave jurisdiction to the Court after a man had begun the service of his sentence or after the expiration of a term.
But they didn't go so far as to apply to a case where a man had completed his service of the felony sentence and was free without any previous notice, without any concealment or without any conduct on his part that deterred the State from -- from bringing him within the encompass of the habitual offender statute.
So I'm saying, Your Honors, is that I would be grateful if the Court would take into account and keep in mind that if you construe the statute that way, then, unless they've got some other authority upon which to hold a man, this statute would not be a sufficient ground for his incarceration.
If they've got other grounds, of course, alright, let that appear.
Alright, and to avoid an interpretation of the statute that would raise a serious question of due process as to whether it could apply in case the State had sat by with no fault, at least on the part of the defendant, and allowed him to serve his sentence, get credit for his good time, become presumably good citizen again, and then be, once more, apprehended and incarcerated.
Now, add all of these, if you can do it in one instance, in this case, he had two years and he served, let's say, one and three-quarter years.
He -- the judge could have given him 10 years.
Then, if what I say is not substantially true, Your Honor, what would prevent the Court from the first time he was apprehended under the habitual offender statute to say, “Alright, I'll give you three years this time.”
He goes and serves the three years.
Then, he gets out and goes about his business and five years later, they're bringing him in again and give him some more years.
And he goes and serves again and they wait 20 years and bring him up again and he serves some more time.
If there's not some constitutional principle, there's no statutory prohibition here in this Act against the Court waiting 50 years after he had finished the service of the felony sentence for which he was sentenced and then bringing him back again, after he's lived with family and lived an honorable life, and incarcerating him again for having been a habitual offender.
I hope it may be within the scope of -- of this case, in the Court's review of it, to consider those questions, as well as the counsel's questions.
George R. Georgieff:
Mr. Chief Justice --
George R. Georgieff:
-- may it please the Court.
In essence, this question becomes one of whether or not the Florida Supreme Court, by denying this man -- this man's petition for habeas corpus, ruled in effect that Judge Amidon, by not granting him an extension of time to allow his counsel to appear in court to represent him, denied this man due process such of you -- such as you have recognized in a number of cases with which I don't take any exceptions.
Now, if it is any more than that, I'm not aware that it is.
It simply is the question of the discretion used by Judge Amidon in either allowing or not allowing this man's counsel to appear.Now, that has to turn on one thing and one thing only, as I see it.
Despite the existence of Cash versus Culver, McNeal versus Culver or Capern, one or the other and Chandler versus Fretag, the Supreme Court of Florida could have relied on your decision in the case of Betts versus Brady wherein this Court concluded, albeit a number of the members who participated in that opinion are not here today.
There, you concluded in essence that if it did not result in a fundamental unfairness to deny counsel or to not allow counsel, that it wasn't such as would cause a reversal of a conviction in the state court simply on that basis.
That's my point here today.
If I can demonstrate to you that what happened to this man, as a result of the activities of the criminal court -- record of Polk County, was not any different than what have happened to him had counsel been there, then I think am free to assume that I fully take myself out of the ambit of not only Chandler versus Fretag but also Cash versus Culver on the -- on the status of Betts versus Brady, that is to say that you have not yet reversed it.