From Casetext: Smarter Legal Research

Hamilton v. Alabama

U.S.
Nov 13, 1961
368 U.S. 52 (1961)

Summary

holding that an arraignment constitutes a critical stage of trial

Summary of this case from Hereford v. Warren

Opinion

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ALABAMA.

No. 32.

Argued October 17, 1961. Decided November 13, 1961.

In Alabama arraignment is a critical stage in a criminal proceeding, because only then may the defense of insanity be pleaded and pleas in abatement or motions challenging the composition of the grand jury be made. Petitioner was arraigned without counsel in Alabama for a capital offense, to which he pleaded not guilty, and subsequently he was convicted and sentenced to death. Held: Absence of counsel for petitioner at the time of his arraignment violated his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 52-55.

271 Ala. 88, 122 So.2d 602, reversed.

Constance B. Motley argued the cause for petitioner. On the brief were Orzell Billingsley, Jr., Peter A. Hall, Thurgood Marshall, Jack Greenberg and James M. Nabrit III.

George D. Mentz, Assistant Attorney General of Alabama, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the briefs were MacDonald Gallion, Attorney General, and James W. Webb and John G. Bookout, Assistant Attorneys General.


This is a capital case, petitioner having been sentenced to death on a count of an indictment charging breaking and entering a dwelling at night with intent to ravish. Petitioner appealed, claiming he had been denied counsel at the time of arraignment. The Alabama Supreme Court, although stating that the right to counsel under the State and Federal Constitutions included the right to counsel at the time of arraignment, did not reach the merits of the claim because to do so would require impeaching the minute entries at the trial, which may not be done in Alabama on an appeal. 270 Ala. 184, 116 So.2d 906. When petitioner sought certiorari here, Alabama responded saying that his remedy to attack the judgment with extrinsic evidence was by way of coram nobis. We denied certiorari. 363 U.S. 852.

Another count charged breaking and entering with intent to steal.

The minute entries indicated that petitioner had counsel at the arraignment.

Petitioner thereupon proceeded by way of coram nobis in the Alabama courts. The Supreme Court of Alabama, while recognizing that petitioner had a right under state law, 15 Ala. Code § 318, to be represented by counsel at the time of his arraignment, denied relief because there was no showing or effort to show that petitioner was "disadvantaged in any way by the absence of counsel when he interposed his plea of not guilty." 271 Ala. 88, 93, 122 So.2d 602, 607. The case is here on certiorari. 364 U.S. 931.

Petitioner was first indicted for burglary and when arraigned had counsel present. Later, the present indictment, relating to the same incident, was returned. His counsel, who had been appointed, was advised that petitioner would be re-arraigned. But no lawyer appeared at this arraignment and we read the Alabama Supreme Court opinion to mean that the earlier appointment did not carry over.

Arraignment under Alabama law is a critical stage in a criminal proceeding. It is then that the defense of insanity must be pleaded (15 Ala. Code § 423). or the opportunity is lost. Morrell v. State, 136 Ala. 44, 34 So. 208. Thereafter that plea may not be made except in the discretion of the trial judge, and his refusal to accept it is "not revisable" on appeal. Rohn v. State, 186 Ala. 5, 8, 65 So. 42, 43. Cf. Garrett v. State, 248 Ala. 612, 614-615, 29 So.2d 8, 9. Pleas in abatement must also be made at the time of arraignment. 15 Ala. Code § 279. It is then that motions to quash based on systematic exclusion of one race from grand juries ( Reeves v. State, 264 Ala. 476, 88 So.2d 561), or on the ground that the grand jury was otherwise improperly drawn ( Whitehead v. State, 206 Ala. 288, 90 So. 351), must be made.

Whatever may be the function and importance of arraignment in other jurisdictions, we have said enough to show that in Alabama it is a critical stage in a criminal proceeding. What happens there may affect the whole trial. Available defenses may be as irretrievably lost, if not then and there asserted, as they are when an accused represented by counsel waives a right for strategic purposes. Cf. Canizio v. New York, 327 U.S. 82, 85-86. In Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45, 69, the Court said that an accused in a capital case "requires the guiding hand of counsel at every step in the proceedings against him. Without it, though he be not guilty, he faces the danger of conviction because he does not know how to establish his innocence." The guiding hand of counsel is needed at the trial "lest the unwary concede that which only bewilderment or ignorance could justify or pay a penalty which is greater than the law of the State exacts for the offense which they in fact and in law committed." Tomkins v. Missouri, 323 U.S. 485, 489. But the same pitfalls or like ones face an accused in Alabama who is arraigned without having counsel at his side. When one pleads to a capital charge without benefit of counsel, we do not stop to determine whether prejudice resulted. Williams v. Kaiser, 323 U.S. 471, 475-476; House v. Mayo, 324 U.S. 42, 45-46; Uveges v. Pennsylvania, 335 U.S. 437, 442. In this case, as in those, the degree of prejudice can never be known. Only the presence of counsel could have enabled this accused to know all the defenses available to him and to plead intelligently.

Arraignment has differing consequences in the various jurisdictions. Under federal law an arraignment is a sine qua non to the trial itself — the preliminary stage where the accused is informed of the indictment and pleads to it, thereby formulating the issue to be tried. Crain v. United States, 162 U.S. 625, 644; Rules 10 and 11, Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. That view has led some States to hold that arraignment is the first step in a trial (at least in case of felonies) at which the accused is entitled to an attorney. People v. Kurant, 331 Ill. 470, 163 N.E. 411.
In other States arraignment is not "a part of the trial" but "a mere formal preliminary step to an answer or plea." Ex parte Jeffcoat, 109 Fla. 207, 210, 146 So. 827, 828.
An arraignment normally, however, affords an opportunity of the accused to plead, as a condition precedent to a trial. Fowler v. State, 155 Tex.Crim. 35, 230 S.W.2d 810. N.J. Rules of Practice, Rule 8:4-2.

Reversed.


Summaries of

Hamilton v. Alabama

U.S.
Nov 13, 1961
368 U.S. 52 (1961)

holding that an arraignment constitutes a critical stage of trial

Summary of this case from Hereford v. Warren

holding that an arraignment was a critical stage of the proceedings because available defenses may be irretrievably lost

Summary of this case from McDowell v. Kingston

holding that Alabama arraignment was a "critical stage" because "[i]t is there that the defense of insanity [and other pleas and motions] must be pleaded, or the opportunity is lost"

Summary of this case from U.S. v. Owen

holding prejudice is presumed when a defendant is arraigned in a capital case without the benefit of counsel and pleads guilty

Summary of this case from U.S. v. White

holding that under Alabama state law, the arraignment was a critical stage in criminal proceedings in the sense that certain defenses (such as insanity) would be irretrievably lost if not asserted

Summary of this case from Singleton v. Lee

holding prejudice is presumed when a defendant is arraigned in a capital case without the benefit of counsel and pleads guilty

Summary of this case from Foell v. Mathes

holding that Alabama arraignment was critical stage of criminal proceeding where right to counsel applied

Summary of this case from In re Sanchez

holding that arraignment is critical stage where right to counsel cannot be infringed

Summary of this case from State v. Curry

finding Alabama arraignment a critical stage because the defendant had to assert or forfeit defenses, without any mention of prosecutor or contested issues

Summary of this case from Schmidt v. Foster

finding a Sixth Amendment violation where the absence of counsel "may affect the whole trial"

Summary of this case from Farrow v. Lipetzky

finding a Sixth Amendment violation where the absence of counsel "may affect the whole trial"

Summary of this case from Farrow v. Contra Costa Cnty.

finding a Sixth Amendment violation where the absence of counsel "may affect the whole trial"

Summary of this case from Farrow v. Lipetzky

finding that in Alabama arraignment is a critical stage in a criminal proceeding because it affects the outcome of trial and, as a result of failure to make certain pleas, available defenses may be "irretrievably lost"

Summary of this case from State v. Cadorette

concluding that an arraignment was a critical stage because defenses not raised at that stage were waived

Summary of this case from State v. Flinn

reversing State's denial of postconviction relief for petitioner who was not represented by counsel at arraignment on capital charge

Summary of this case from Murray v. Giarratano

reversing conviction of a defendant arraigned without counsel, because "[o]nly the presence of counsel could have enabled this accused to know all the defenses available to him. . . ."

Summary of this case from In re Christopher T

rejecting harmless-error analysis where "the degree of prejudice can never be known"

Summary of this case from Satterwhite v. Texas

emphasizing that the defendant entered a plea and was required to raise or waive certain defenses

Summary of this case from Rothgery v. Gillespie Cnty.

In Hamilton and White, for example, the Court envisioned the lawyer as advising the accused on available defenses in order to allow him to plead intelligently.

Summary of this case from United States v. Ash

In Hamilton v. Alabama, 368 U.S. 52 (1961), and in White v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 59 (1963), the accused was confronted with the procedural system and was required, with definite consequences, to enter a plea.

Summary of this case from United States v. Ash

In Hamilton v. Alabama, 368 U.S. 52 (1961), it was held that failure to appoint counsel at arraignment deprived the petitioner of due process, notwithstanding the fact that he simply pleaded not guilty at that time, because under Alabama law certain defenses had to be raised then or be abandoned.

Summary of this case from Mempa v. Rhay

In Hamilton, the defendant never indicated that the presence of counsel at the arraignment actually would have changed the outcome, and the Court did not analyze this possibility.

Summary of this case from United States v. Roy

describing arraignment as "a critical stage in a criminal proceeding"

Summary of this case from United States v. Roy

In Hamilton v. Alabama, 368 U.S. 52, 54 (1961), the Supreme Court defined "critical stage" as a phase of trial in which "[a]vailable defenses may be... irretrievably lost, if not then and there asserted."

Summary of this case from Ray v. MaClaren

presuming prejudice where defendant was completely without counsel when he pleaded guilty to a capital charge and irrevocably waived other pleas

Summary of this case from McDowell v. Kingston
Case details for

Hamilton v. Alabama

Case Details

Full title:HAMILTON v . ALABAMA

Court:U.S.

Date published: Nov 13, 1961

Citations

368 U.S. 52 (1961)
82 S. Ct. 157

Citing Cases

United States v. Roy

See Cronic , 466 U.S. at 659, 104 S.Ct. at 2047 ("The presumption that counsel's assistance is essential…

Burdine v. Johnson

What mattered to the Court was that the facts of the case justified the conclusion that counsel was denied at…