Smith v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co.

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 360 US 1 (1959)
ARGUED: Jan 21, 1959
DECIDED: Jun 08, 1959

Facts of the case


Media for Smith v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 21, 1959 in Smith v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 90, Johnny Ray Smith, Petitioner, versus United States of America.

Mr. Moore, you may proceed.

William B. Moore, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice, Honorable Associate Justices, if it please the Court.

This is a criminal case which has been in the federal courts throughout its entire life.

In November 1949, Johnny Ray Smith was apprehended under the Osceola Hotel in Geneva, Alabama by the FBI.

He and two others, who later became his codefendants, were carried to Dothan where they were arraigned and incarcerated.

They -- this was on a Friday.

They were questioned that night in Saturday and Sunday, and right in the early Monday morning, the 21st day of November, 1949, they were carried to Montgomery.

There, they had a conference with the Assistant United States Attorney.

And during that time or some time during the morning while they were in the United States Attorney's Office, FBI agent John Lill went to the chambers of Judge Charles Kennamer, presiding judge, and had a conference with him about this matter.

Shortly thereafter, Judge Kennamer went on the bench, Johnny Ray Smith and his two defendants -- codefendants, who were two 17-year-old boys, Johnny Ray was 26, went into the courtroom.

And in the words of the Fifth Circuit after a few didactic questions, all three defendants pled guilty.

Whereupon, the judge says, “I have discussed this matter with Mr. Lill,” meaning the FBI agent and immediately proceeded to pronounce sentences, 30 years to Johnny Ray and 15 years to each of the two 17-year-old boys.

Now, Smith was incarcerated in the federal prison system and finally was sent to California to Alcatraz.

He there initiated a petition, a -- a petition for writ of habeas corpus, and it got to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals there.

They told him he had the wrong remedy, that he should be proceeding under 2255.

Thereupon, he filed in the Fifth Circuit in Alabama after making due motions to Judge Kennamer.

The Fifth Circuit of Alabama of the Fifth -- not of Alabama but the United States Court of Appeals Circuit, granted him this relief under 2255 and ordered a hearing.

At that stage, I was fortunate enough to be appointed by the Court to come in to defend the man's rights.

We had a full hearing with the petitioner being brought from Alcatraz and then the presiding District Judge decided we were entitled to no relief so we went to the -- back to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

And in 238 F. 2d 925, they issued another opinion.

We thought we had won our lawsuit at that point.

They decided that when it comes to the controlling question whether or not the waivers and the plea was taken in violation of due process, that it was.

And in the opinion they set out a number of reasons why they thought it was.

Then the judgment is reversed, the cause is remanded with directions to grant the motion to set aside the conviction and sentence and to proceed further and not inconsistently, herewith.

The United States Attorney saw fit to file for rehearing.

The rehearing was refused but the Court added a further sentence in addition to what I just read, including if the District Judge is of the opinion that the ends of justice required it, permitting the defendant to withdraw his waiver of counsel and his plea of guilty, and to stand trial.

We went back to the Fifth Circuit Court again -- to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals again, and pointed out that we thought it was quite inconsistent in the body of the opinion to say, the due -- due process has not been granted because of the waivers and these other matters which I'm going to bring up that we thought we were entitled to more relief but we didn't get it.

Hence, we are here.

Now, what our District did -- Judge did, when the case was sent back to him with these instructions, was the following.