Townsend v. Sain

PETITIONER: Charles Townsend
RESPONDENT: Frank G. Sain, Sheriff of Cook County, Illinois
LOCATION: James Wah Toy’s Laundry

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 372 US 293 (1963)
ARGUED: Feb 19, 1962
REARGUED: Oct 08, 1962 / Oct 09, 1962
DECIDED: Mar 18, 1963

Edward J. Hladis - argued and reargued for the respondents
George N. Leighton - argued and reargued for the petitioner

Facts of the case

The Chicago police arrested and detained Frank Townsend, a drug addict, in connection with a murder. After several hours of questioning, Townsend began going into withdrawal and asked for a doctor. A doctor gave him a medicine Townsend alleges was a "truth serum." While under the influence of the medication, Townsend confessed to the murder. Townsend alleged that the medicine caused his confession and, therefore, was not admissible at trial. Defendants disputed most of the facts surrounding the confession. The Criminal Court of Cook County, Illinois admitted the confession at a trial by jury. The jury found Townsend guilty and sentenced him to death. The Supreme Court of Illinois affirmed the conviction.

Townsend subsequently petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The District Court denied the writ without a hearing. The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed on the ground that the District Court's inquiry should be limited to undisputed portions of the record.


Is a Federal court required to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine issues of fact in order to rule on the writ of habeas corpus?

Media for Townsend v. Sain

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - October 09, 1962 in Townsend v. Sain
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 19, 1962 (Part 1) in Townsend v. Sain
Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - October 08, 1962 in Townsend v. Sain

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 19, 1962 (Part 2) in Townsend v. Sain

Earl Warren:

Mr. Hladis or -- had you concluded your opening arguments (Inaudible) or you may continue if you please.

George N. Leighton:

Thank you Your Honor.

I have -- had portion of the time remaining to me now, so I can take another additional 12 minutes.

Earl Warren:


George N. Leighton:

To conclude the argument for the petitioner if Your Honor please, I wish to emphasize that the position of the petitioner is that before the District Court, the attorneys for the respondents had upon remandment of this course, filed a motion to dismiss the petition again and the case never got beyond argument on that motion, and that motion was sustained by the district judge by his memorandum order from which the appeal was taken so that at no time was the petitioner allowed the opportunity which is ordinary available at a trial of an issue to make a formal offer of proof.

Now we take the position that the district judge heard in dismissing the petition and not performing the functions which Your Honors have said is the inherent duty of a district judge on Federal Habeas Corpus, to have made his own independent determination of the question whether the federal constitutional questions which the petitioner had urged in the District Court had been fairly considered and determined by the state courts.

Now, I wish you to also go back to question which has been asked of me about the position of the petitioner with regard to the effect of this drug.

It is the petitioner's position that the vice of what occurred to him was that while he was given a drug by a police doctor, he was also at the same time, while still under the influence of this drug, subjected to the interrogation that resulted in the confession used in this trial.

The courts below have failed to distinguish between the propriety of the medication and the propriety of the interrogation, while the medication may well be in the mind to some people, some doctors had been proper that the interrogation accompanied at the same time while he was under the influence of this police injected drug, is what creates the vice.

Now, the petitioner can only point to the fair inferences in the record that this was the intended result by the state officers involved.

It is true, we have no one who could testify that Officer Cagney, when he saw the doctor, talked to the doctor and said “Give him a drug that will produce confession” is true, but it is considered judgment of pharmacologist, the people who have dealt with the therapeutic and the physiological results of hyoscine, criminologists have spoken on the subject, medical men have spoken on the subject that this drug has properties which injected in therapeutic doses produced the state of mind of ejecting in incriminatory confessions and in fact that is one of the uses of the drug.

Now, it occurred to me to say, if Your Honors please that fair minds would agree that if man were being wheeled into operating room with proper therapeutic doses of chloroform and other means of easing his pains, that is not the time to discuss with him the disposition of his property.

Most people would argue I'm sure that a will signed by man who was about to be taken into an operating room is not a valid exercise of testamentary power.

So that while the medication might have been proper under the circumstances, it is the accompanying interrogation with the resulting confession, that raises the question here.

Potter Stewart:

Is this case in which the record shows that he confessed to good many, other offenses?

George N. Leighton:

That's right Your Honor.

Potter Stewart:

And some -- at least on one of which he was found not guilty and couple other were -- couple of others were (Inaudible) and --

George N. Leighton:

That's right Your Honor.

Potter Stewart:

And --

George N. Leighton:

That's right.

Now, may I just answer Your Honor's question that are very important that I'm sorry I won't be able to dwell upon it.

I urged that question before the District Judge.

I asked for an opportunity to introduce in evidence the fact that on January 4, when they had a coroner's hearing which I have sometimes describe that Charlie Townsend day because that's what they had that day.

It was hearings on Charlie Townsend cases, they had inquest into four deaths, one with the death of Johnny Stinson.

In and around, Charlie Townsend were later found items of property of this deceased.

They took a confession from Townsend, at the same time, they took this one.

The case was tried.

Townsend was acquitted because Townsend adequately explained evidently the presence of these articles.

There was another inquest in which the -- another confession was taken at the same time, this one was taken.

The inquest reports are now before Your Honors as part of the additional answer of the respondents.