Price v. Johnston
334 U.S. 266 (1948)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Price v. Johnston, 334 U.S. 266 (1948)

Price v. Johnston

No. 111

Argued December 16, 1947

Decided May 24, 1948

334 U.S. 266

Syllabus

1. Under § 262 of the Judicial Code, a circuit court of appeals has power, exercisable in the sound discretion of the court, to issue an order, in the nature of a writ of habeas corpus, commanding that a prisoner be brought before the court for the purpose of arguing his own appeal in a case involving his life or liberty. Pp.278-286.

(a) An order requiring the presence of a prisoner before a circuit court of appeals to argue his own appeal is one in the nature of a writ of habeas corpus; and, as such, clearly falls within the scope of § 262. P. 334 U. S. 279.

(b) Such an order satisfies the basic requirement of § 262 that it be necessary to the complete exercise by the court of an appellate jurisdiction already existing. P. 334 U. S. 279.

(c) A writ of habeas corpus of this nature is not limited to circumstances where "necessary" in the sense that the court could not otherwise physically discharge its appellate duties, but is available in those exceptional cases where its use as an aid to an appeal over which the court has jurisdiction may fairly be said to be reasonably necessary in the interest of justice. P. 334 U. S. 279.

(d) Since ordinarily a court can not designate counsel for a prisoner who has no lawyer and who desires that none be appointed to represent him, an arrangement in such case for the prisoner's presence and participation at the oral argument can be said to be "reasonably necessary in the interest of justice." P. 334 U. S. 280.

(e) The forms of the habeas corpus writ authorized by § 262 are not only those which were recognized in this country in 1789, when the original Judiciary Act containing the substance of this section came into existence. P. 334 U. S. 282.

(f) Where production of a prisoner before an appellate court is essential to proper disposition of the case on appeal, issuance of a writ of habeas corpus for that purpose is "agreeable to the usages and principles of law" within the meaning of § 262. Pp. 334 U. S. 281-284.

Page 334 U. S. 267

2. The power to issue such a writ is discretionary, and this discretion is to be exercised with the best interests of both the prisoner and the Government in mind. P. 334 U. S. 284.

3. The right given by § 272 of the Judicial Code to parties in all the courts of the United States to "plead and manage their causes personally" is not unqualified as to prisoners desiring to conduct their own oral arguments in appellate courts, and may be circumscribed as to them where reasonable necessity so dictates. Pp. 334 U. S. 285-286.

4. After three unsuccessful attempts by habeas corpus proceedings to secure release from allegedly unlawful imprisonment, petitioner instituted a fourth proceeding, alleging for the first time that the prosecution had knowingly used false testimony to obtain his conviction. Without denying this allegation or questioning its sufficiency, the Government asked that the fourth petition be denied, apparently on the ground that the issues raised were known to the petitioner when he filed the earlier petitions and that the fourth petition was an abuse of the writ of habeas corpus. Without a hearing and without stating any reasons for its action, the District Court dismissed the fourth petition. Held: it erred in so doing, and the cause is remanded to it for further proceedings. Pp. 334 U. S. 269-278, 334 U. S. 286-294.

(a) Since the three prior applications did not raise the issue as to the prosecution's knowingly using false testimony to obtain petitioner's conviction, the three prior refusals to discharge petitioner can have no bearing or weight on the disposition to be made of the new matter raised in the fourth petition. Salinger v. Loisel,265 U. S. 224, and Wong Doo v. United States,265 U. S. 239, distinguished. Pp. 334 U. S. 287-290.

(b) Although the record in the proceeding upon petitioner's first petition for habeas corpus indicates that petitioner then had knowledge of the facts which form the basis, at least in part, of the due process allegation made in the fourth petition, it can not be assumed that petitioner has acquired no new or additional information since the time of the first proceeding that might indicate fraudulent conduct on the part of the prosecuting attorneys. P. 334 U. S. 290.

(c) Whether petitioner does or does not have any new information is a matter which should be determined in the first instance by the District Court, and on which petitioner is entitled to be heard either at a hearing or through an amendment or elaboration of his pleadings. P. 334 U. S. 291.

Page 334 U. S. 268

(d) Assuming that petitioner did have prior knowledge of all the facts upon which the allegation in question is based, it does not necessarily follow that the fourth petition should be dismissed, since he may have excuse for failure previously to assert his rights. P. 291.

(e) The burden was not on the petitioner to allege affirmatively in the first instance that he had acquired new information, or that he had adequate reasons for not raising sooner the issue of the knowing use of false testimony. It was enough if he presented an allegation and supporting facts which, if borne out by proof, would entitle him to relief. Pp. 334 U. S. 291-292.

(f) There can not be imposed on unlearned prisoners who act as their own counsel in habeas corpus proceedings the same high standards of the legal art which may be demanded of members of the legal profession, especially where the imposition of such standards would have a retroactive and prejudicial effect on the prisoner's inartistically drawn petition. P. 334 U. S. 292.

(g) If the Government chooses not to deny the allegation or to question its sufficiency, and desires instead to claim that the prisoner had abused the writ of habeas corpus, it rests with the Government to make that claim with clarity and particularity in its return to the order to show cause. P. 334 U. S. 292.

(h) Once a particular abuse of the writ has been alleged, the prisoner has the burden of answering that allegation and of proving that he has not abused the writ; and if the answer is inadequate, the court may dismiss the petition without further proceedings. P. 334 U. S. 292.

(i) If there is a substantial conflict, a hearing may be necessary to determine the facts, and appropriate findings and conclusions of law can then be made. In this way, an adequate record may be established so that appellate courts can determine the precise basis of the District Court's action, and the prisoner is given a fairer opportunity to meet all possible objections to the filing of his petition. P. 334 U. S. 292.

(j) The procedure followed in the District Court in the instant proceeding precluded a proper development of the issue of the allegedly abusive use of the habeas corpus writ, and did not give petitioner a fair opportunity to meet this important issue. P. 334 U. S. 293.

159 F. 2d 234 and 161 F. 2d 705 reversed.

Petitioner's fourth petition for a writ of habeas corpus was denied by the District Court. On appeal, the Circuit Court of Appeals en banc denied petitioner's motion

Page 334 U. S. 269

for an order directing his appearance for the purpose of orally arguing his case, 159 F.2d 234, and affirmed the judgment of the District Court, 161 F.2d 705. This Court granted certiorari. 331 U.S. 804. Reversed and remanded, p. 334 U. S. 294.

Official Supreme Court caselaw is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia caselaw is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.