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Sims v. Balkcom

Supreme Court of Georgia
May 7, 1964
220 Ga. 7 (Ga. 1964)


In Sims v. Balkcom, 220 Ga. 7, 12 (136 S.E.2d 766), this court held the statute fixing the punishment for rape was constitutional as against the attack that it furnished no standards to govern the jury in making its determination of the sentence.

Summary of this case from Williams v. State



ARGUED APRIL 13, 1964.

DECIDED MAY 7, 1964.

Habeas corpus. Reidsville City Court. Before Judge Carr.

D. L. Hollowell, Howard Moore, Jr., Horace T. Ward, William H. Alexander, Jack Greenberg, James M. Nabrit, for plaintiff in error.

Eugene Cook, Attorney General, Albert Sidney Johnson, Assistant Attorney General, B. Daniel Dubberly, Jr., Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Dewey Hayes, Solicitor General, contra.

1. Habeas corpus is never a remedy for the correction of errors but is a remedy to set aside a judgment that is void.

2. The zenith of human attributes is the virtue, purity and sanctity of woman. The imposition of the penalty of death upon one who rapes a woman is not "cruel and unusual" punishment which is inhibited by the 8th Amendment ( Code § 1-808) of the Constitution of the United States or Art. I, Sec. I, Par. IX of the State Constitution ( Code Ann. § 2-109; Const. of 1945).

3. While conduct of appointed counsel in the exercise of his judgment in not challenging a jury or cross examining a State's witness can not be held by this court to show either incompetence or unfaithfulness; yet where court-appointed counsel files no motion for a new trial after sentence of death has been imposed and withdraws from the case without notice to the accused, and the court appoints no counsel for this purpose in a case where the accused is admittedly indigent, illiterate and ignorant to the point of incompetency, a violation of both the State and United States constitutional guaranties of the benefit of counsel is shown, and the conviction and sentence are void, and it was error in a habeas corpus proceeding where these facts were shown to remand the accused to the custody of the State Warden.

ARGUED APRIL 13, 1964 — DECIDED MAY 7, 1964.

This is a habeas corpus case in which it is alleged that the prisoner is an indigent and illiterate Negro who was not properly represented by counsel at any stage of the case, was not advised of his constitutional rights in violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the State and Federal Constitutions in that he was not indicted by a grand jury or tried by a petit jury legally composed, that he at no time waived or authorized the waiver of any of his constitutional rights to be tried by a fair and impartial jury, and the verdict and sentence to die by electrocution are in violation of the 14th Amendment and the State Constitution in that it constitutes cruel and inhuman treatment because of the severity of the sentence disproportionate to the offense charged in that life was neither taken nor endangered. By amendment the statute ( Code Ann. § 26-1302; Ga. L. 1960, p. 266) under which he was sentenced to death is likewise attacked as being unconstitutional in violation of the "cruel and unusual punishments" clauses of the State Constitution and the 6th, 8th and 14th Amendments of the Constitution of the United States in that the statute fails to set out any standards by which the jury can be guided in its determination of the sentence to be imposed, alleging that (a) the State of Georgia has executed for rape 58 Negro persons and only 3 White persons since 1930; (b) execution for rape violates evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society, which are more or less accepted universally; and (c) in the instant case the imposition of the death penalty is erratic and arbitrary, he being the only known person sentenced to death for rape in this county since 1913, only two other persons having been sentenced to death, both for murder, which sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment. He further alleges that the admission of a confession signed by him violated his right of due process under the 14th Amendment since it was obtained by threats and force at a time when he was unrepresented by counsel, he being illiterate, and after he had been beaten and threatened with death if he denied committing the crime.

Evidence was introduced at the hearing in regard to (1) the selection of the names of jurors from the tax digests of Charlton County; (2) the illiteracy, ignorance and indigency of the prisoner; (3) exhibits and documents with reference to capital crimes and punishment which were not allowed in evidence; and (4) testimony and documents submitted to prove the lack of counsel at various stages of the case, including the holding of the first and second committal hearings, the last time the prisoner saw his appointed counsel, the failure by counsel to file a motion for new trial, and the reasons why defense counsel failed to raise certain questions in defense during the trial and prior to trial, and particularly as to whether or not the prisoner had been beaten in a doctor's office, including a review of questions asked of the doctor which included the doctor's testimony in regard to the victim as to bruises on her chest, around her breasts, shoulders, neck and eyes, and the transcript of the committal hearing as to his testimony with reference to his examination of the victim within two hours after the alleged rape showing her hysteria and extreme nervous shock in which she stated she had been raped, the condition in which he found her private parts showing that her hymen had been stretched to allow entrance to the vagina, blood stains present around the entire area, with tears in the mucous membranes, and that she had been menstruating and was still menstruating, and the condition of her clothing and body with mud on her legs and thighs.

After the hearing, the court remanded the custody of the prisoner back to the warden, and the exception here is to that judgment.

1. The writ of habeas corpus is never a substitute for a review to correct mere errors of law. McKay v. Balkcom, 203 Ga. 790 ( 48 S.E.2d 453), and cases cited therein. It is an available remedy to attack a void judgment. Fleming v. Lowry, 173 Ga. 894 ( 162 S.E. 144); Henson v. Scoggins, 203 Ga. 540 ( 47 S.E.2d 643); Coates v. Balkcom, 216 Ga. 564 ( 118 S.E.2d 376). Therefore, we will not review in this proceeding alleged errors in holding one commitment hearing when the accused was without counsel, although his appointed counsel requested and obtained another commitment hearing at which the accused had counsel. Nor would alleged discrimination in making up the jury boxes in the absence of a timely challenge to the jury be reviewable, Cornelious v. State, 193 Ga. 25, 31 ( 17 S.E.2d 156), Williams v. State, 210 Ga. 665, 667 ( 82 S.E.2d 217), remanded 349 U.S. 375 ( 75 S.C. 814, 99 LE 1161), adhered to 211 Ga. 763 ( 88 S.E.2d 376), cert. denied, 350 U.S. 950 ( 76 S.C. 326, 100 LE 828), Cobb v. State, 218 Ga. 10 ( 126 S.E.2d 231), here or elsewhere, provided the accused was represented by counsel when such challenge must, under the law, be made. Whether he had such counsel will be decided in Division 3 of this opinion. Thus far we find no error in the judgment remanding the prisoner to the custody of the warden.

2. The sentence of death by electrocution for rape, since the victim was not slain, is alleged to be a violation of the State and Federal Constitutions which forbid cruel and unusual punishment. The 8th Amendment ( Code § 1-808) of the Federal Constitution and Art. I, Sec. I, Par. IX of our State Constitution ( Code Ann. § 2-109; Const. of 1945), contain the identical words, "cruel and unusual punishments," and expressly forbid their infliction. We believe this court fairly and correctly construed the meaning of that constitutional provision ( Code § 1-808) in Whitten v. State, 47 Ga. 297, 301. It was there said: "So long as they [the legislature] do not provide cruel and unusual punishments such as disgraced the civilization of former ages, and make one shudder with horror to read of them, as drawing, quartering, burning, etc., the Constitution does not put any limit upon legislative discretion." To the same effect see Wilkerson v. Utah, 99 U.S. 130, 135 ( 25 LE 345); In Re Kemmler, 136 U.S. 436 ( 10 S.C. 930, 34 LE 519); Medley, 134 U.S. 160 ( 10 S.C. 384, 33 LE 835); Francis v. Resweber, 329 U.S. 459 ( 67 S.C. 374, 91 LE 422).

No determination of this question is either wise or humane if it fails to take full account of the major place in civilized society of woman. She is the mother of the human race, the bedrock of civilization; her purity and virtue are the most priceless attributes of human kind. The infinite instances where she has resisted even unto death the bestial assaults of brutes who were trying to rape her are eloquent and indisputable proof of the inhuman agonies she endures when raped. She has chosen death instead of rape. How can a mere mortal man say the crime of rape upon her was less than death? Man is the only member of the animal family of which we have any knowledge that is bestial enough to forcibly rape a female. Even a dog is too humane to do such an outrageous injury to the female.

We are not dealing with the wisdom of capital punishment in any case. That must be left by the judiciary to the legislative department. But any man, who can never know the haunting torment of a pure woman after a brutal man has forcibly raped her, who would arbitrarily classify that crime below murder, would reveal a callous appraisal of the true value of woman's virtue.

We reject this attack upon the sentence in full confidence that in so doing we permit the sovereign State, which is actually all the people thereof, to guard and protect the mothers of mankind, the cornerstone of civilized society, and the zenith of God's creation, against a crime more horrible than death, which is the forcible sexual invasion of her body, the temple of her soul, thereby soiling for life her purity, the most precious attribute of all mankind. In such cases the law clothes the accused with full protection of his legal rights to a fair trial with all defenses, including insanity, available to him. His conviction can stand only if he has been lawfully tried, which will include that he is sane and responsible for his acts. An innocent man would want no more, and a guilty man is entitled to no more. So long as the legislature provides the death penalty for any crime, this court will uphold it for forcible rape, as there can be no more reprehensible crime. Accordingly the sentence of death violates neither of the Constitutions as contended.

Since this question follows so closely upon the dissenting opinion of Justices Douglas, Brennan and Goldberg in Rudolph v. Alabama, 375 U.S. 889 ( 84 S.C. 155), we deem it necessary to respectfully comment on that dissent. Of course if the majority of that court should rule in accord with that dissent we would promptly follow. But with all due respect to the dissenting Justices we would question the judicial right of any American judge to construe the American Constitution contrary to its apparent meaning, the American history of the clauses, and its construction by American courts, simply because the numerous nations and States have abandoned capital punishment for rape. First we believe the history of no nation will show the high values of woman's virtue and purity that America has shown. We would regret to see the day when this freedom loving country would lower its respect for womanhood or lessen her legal protection for no better reason than that many or even all other countries have done so. She is entitled to every legal protection of her body, her decency, her purity and her good name. Anyone so depraved as to rape her deserves the most extreme penalty that the law provides for crime.

Nor is the statute ( Code Ann. § 26-1302; Ga. L. 1866, p. 151; Ga. L. 1960, p. 266), allowing the jury to fix the penalty at life imprisonment or one to twenty years unconstitutional because it furnishes no standard to govern the jury in making its determination of the sentence, as contended. Lawyers experienced in court procedures know that often where guilt is proven mitigating circumstances call for lessening the punishment, and the jury who hears the evidence can better than anyone else properly weigh such matters. For other cases involving cruel and unusual punishments see Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349 ( 30 S.C. 544, 54 LE 793); O'Neil v. Vermont, 144 U.S. 323, 340 ( 12 S.C. 693, 36 LE 450); Howard v. Fleming, 191 U.S. 126, 135 ( 24 S.C. 49, 48 LE 121); Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86 ( 78 S.C. 590, 2 L.Ed.2d 630); Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660, 676 ( 82 S.C. 1417, 8 L.Ed.2d 758).

3. The final attack is predicated upon the contention that the accused who is admittedly indigent, illiterate and ignorant to the point of incompetency was not furnished legal counsel as is required by the United States Constitution ( Code § 1-806) and the State Constitution ( Code Ann. § 2-105; Const. of 1945). We first decide the portion of this attack which is based upon the alleged incompetence or unfaithfulness of the appointed counsel. The attack upon his competency is overwhelmingly refuted by his demanding and securing another commitment hearing, and by his objections to the introduction of an alleged confession of the accused, together with the intelligent manner in which he conducted the trial. The two major criticisms of counsel's incompetency or unfaithfulness are: (1) he did not challenge the jury, and (2) he did not ask a State's witness if the accused was assaulted in the doctor's office. In the absence of more proof than this record contains, no lawyer could find that the jury was subject to challenge, and furthermore, a competent and faithful lawyer might believe it served the best interest of his client, since the jury had wide power to reduce the sentence, not to challenge. Also it might have been, so far as this record discloses, that counsel knew the State's witness would say no assault had been made upon the accused, which would have been injurious to his client. This case demonstrates the fallacy of allowing a second lawyer, aided by hindsight, to question the wisdom of the lawyer who tried the case where he had to act in the light of circumstances that he knew during the progress of the trial. These attacks upon the trial counsel are groundless and unjustifiably question his competency and honor. See Williams v. State, 192 Ga. 247 ( 15 S.E.2d 219); Jones v. Balkcom, 210 Ga. 262 ( 79 S.E.2d 1), cert. denied 347 U.S. 956 ( 74 S.C. 682, 98 LE 1101).

But the further portion of this attack is serious. It shows beyond dispute that, from the time the sentence of death was pronounced, this accused was wholly without counsel, and the time in which he could, under the law, file a motion for new trial passed while he was locked in jail, ignorant of his right to appeal, and without the advice of counsel as to his rights. Since his sentence was the extreme limit allowed by law he had all to gain and nothing to lose by making an appeal for a new trial. To say he would not wish for an appeal in these circumstances is to say he was utterly incompetent mentally. It is well established that lack of counsel for indigent persons being tried for crimes is a deprivation of their constitutional rights under the 8th Amendment, supra, and the Georgia Constitution. Elam v. Rowland, 194 Ga. 58, 60 ( 20 S.E.2d 572); Smith v. State, 215 Ga. 362 ( 110 S.E.2d 635); Fair v. Balkcom, 216 Ga. 721 ( 119 S.E.2d 691). Where, as here, the accused had received a sentence of death the most critical period of his case existed from the time of said sentence to its ultimate execution and it is then that the benefit of counsel is most urgently needed. Neither the enormity of his crime nor the conclusiveness of his guilt as shown by the evidence can be given any consideration whatever in connection with the constitutional demands that he have benefit of counsel. We have not found a decided case where the sole complaint of lack of counsel related exclusively to the case after conviction and sentence. But this absence of decisions on the point is no handicap to us, for we know that it would make a mockery of the Constitutions to have counsel only during the trial and then be denied counsel after the sentence of death. Though the State has made no provision for paying counsel for appeals, and hence the State's constitutional guaranty of counsel, so far as State action is concerned, is empty words, yet this court should and will order as many retrials as necessary to insure counsel as the Constitution requires when in a proper case brought to us this point is presented. The State has thus far depended upon the trial judge to appoint unpaid counsel who have faithfully served at a dead expense to themselves. This practice will satisfy the demand of the Constitution, but it is a rank injustice to the lawyers. But in this case that practice was not followed. The law ( Code Ann. § 27-3001; Ga. L. 1953, Nov. Sess., p. 478) provides for the appointment of trial counsel and for the county to pay them. Another statute ( Code Ann. § 27-3002; Ga. L. 1953, Nov. Sess., pp. 478, 479) provides for the appointment and payment of counsel to bring cases to this court, but no funds have ever been appropriated with which to make such payments, and orders of this court to pay have been declined for want of appropriation.

We do not allow our strong disapproval of the lack of counsel after sentence to inferentially censure the appointed trial counsel for his failure to move for a new trial. We think he was utterly mistaken as to his professional duty to protect the right of the accused and move for a new trial, but undoubtedly he thought he was appointed solely to try the case under Code Ann. § 27-3001, supra, and that other provisions for appeal counsel should be made by the judge under Code Ann. § 27-3002, supra. We would have hoped that he resolve every doubt in favor of his client and his professional obligation as a lawyer. For counsel employed and paid by an accused to fail, after a death sentence, to move for a new trial and seek a review, and abandon the case when no other counsel had been engaged to handle it, would raise a serious question as to his right to remain a member of the Bar. But the case of this appointed counsel can not be tested by that standard even though we think he should have considered it his professional duty to remain in the case.

For the reasons stated in Division 3 of this opinion we hold that lack of counsel after the death sentence was imposed deprived the accused of his vital constitutional right to counsel and renders his trial and sentence void. The contrary judgment here excepted to is reversed with direction that the accused be given another trial in which he have counsel in conformity with this opinion.

Judgment reversed with direction. All the Justices concur.

Summaries of

Sims v. Balkcom

Supreme Court of Georgia
May 7, 1964
220 Ga. 7 (Ga. 1964)

In Sims v. Balkcom, 220 Ga. 7, 12 (136 S.E.2d 766), this court held the statute fixing the punishment for rape was constitutional as against the attack that it furnished no standards to govern the jury in making its determination of the sentence.

Summary of this case from Williams v. State
Case details for

Sims v. Balkcom

Case Details

Full title:SIMS v. BALKCOM, Warden

Court:Supreme Court of Georgia

Date published: May 7, 1964


220 Ga. 7 (Ga. 1964)
136 S.E.2d 766

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