Gibbs v. Burke
337 U.S. 773 (1949)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Gibbs v. Burke, 337 U.S. 773 (1949)

Gibbs v. Burke

No. 418

Argued April 21-22, 1949

Decided June 27, 1949

337 U.S. 773

Syllabus

Petitioner, a man in his thirties, was tried and convicted in a Pennsylvania state court for larceny, and was sentenced to imprisonment for 2 1/2 to 5 years. He conducted his own defense, appointment of counsel having been neither requested by petitioner nor offered by the court. At the trial, considerable hearsay and otherwise incompetent evidence prejudicial to petitioner was admitted; the prosecuting witness, being recalled for further cross-examination, was made a witness for petitioner, to the latter's detriment; petitioner was prevented from proving a fact clearly relevant to his defense, and the trial judge, advising petitioner of his privilege against self-incrimination, made reference in the presence of the jury to petitioner's criminal record. Petitioner's subsequent application to the State Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus, claiming a denial of federal constitutional right on his trial, was denied.

Held:

1. The federal question was adequately raised, and the case is properly considered here on its merits. P. 337 U. S. 779.

(a) Reliance on the Sixth, rather than the Fourteenth, Amendment in the habeas corpus petition was not fatal, since meticulousness in procedural allegations is not essential in a habeas corpus proceeding. P. 337 U. S. 779.

(b) It appears that habeas corpus was a proper method of testing the constitutionality of the conviction, and that it was within the original jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. P. 337 U. S. 779.

2. The facts of the case, particularly the occurrences at the trial, sufficiently show that petitioner was handicapped by lack of counsel to such an extent that he was denied a fair trial contrary to the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 337 U. S. 774-778, 337 U. S. 780-782.

Reversed.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, in an original proceeding, denied petitioner's application for a writ of habeas corpus. This Court granted certiorari, 335 U.S.

Page 337 U. S. 774

867, and appointed a member of the Bar of this Court to serve as counsel for the petitioner. 335 U.S. 895. Reversed and remanded, p. 337 U. S. 782.

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