United States v. Morgan
346 U.S. 502 (1954)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Morgan, 346 U.S. 502 (1954)

United States v. Morgan

No. 31

Argued October 19, 1953

Decided January 4, 1954

346 U.S. 502

Syllabus

By a proceeding in the nature of coram nobis, respondent sought to have a Federal District Court set aside his conviction and sentence in that court for a federal crime, though he had served the full term for which he had been sentenced. He claimed that his conviction was invalid because of denial of his constitutional right to counsel at his trial. He had since been convicted in a state court of another crime, had been sentenced to a longer term as a second offender because of his prior federal conviction, and was still serving the state sentence.

Held: Under the All-Writs Section, 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a), the Federal District Court had power to issue a writ of error coram nobis; it had power to vacate its judgment of conviction and sentence, and respondent is entitled to an opportunity to show that his federal conviction was invalid. Pp. 346 U. S. 503-513.

1. Though respondent's papers disclose some uncertainty as to his choice of a remedy, this Court treats them as adequately presenting a motion in the nature of a writ of error coram nobis, enabling the trial court to properly exercise its jurisdiction. P. 346 U. S. 505.

2. Issuance by a Federal District Court of a writ of error coram nobis is authorized by the All-Writs Section, 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a), and power to issue the writ comprehends the power of the District Court to grant this motion in the nature of coram nobis. Pp. 346 U. S. 506-510.

3. Such a motion is a step in the criminal case, and Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, expressly abolishing the writ of error coram nobis in civil cases, is inapplicable. P. 505, n 4.

4.Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, allowing correction of "an illegal sentence at any time," is inapplicable. Pp. 346 U. S. 505-506.

5. The provision of 28 U.S.C. § 2255 that a prisoner "in custody" may at any time move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate it, if "in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States," does not supersede all other remedies in the nature of coram nobis. Pp. 346 U. S. 510-511.

Page 346 U. S. 503

6. Continuation of litigation, after final judgment and after exhaustion or waiver of any statutory right of review, should be allowed through the extraordinary remedy of coram nobis only under circumstances compelling such action to achieve justice. P. 346 U. S. 511.

7. Where it cannot be deduced from the record whether counsel was properly waived, where no other remedy is available, and where sound reasons exist for failure to seek appropriate earlier relief, a motion in the nature of a writ of coram nobis must be heard by the federal trial court. Pp. 346 U. S. 511-512.

8. Since the results of the conviction may persist though the sentence has been served and the power to remedy an invalid sentence exists, respondent is entitled to an opportunity to attempt to show that his conviction was invalid. Pp. 346 U. S. 512-513.

202 F.2d 67, affirmed.

In respondent's proceeding in the nature of coram nobis to set aside his conviction and sentence, the Federal District Court denied relief. The Court of Appeals reversed. 202 F.2d 67. This Court granted certiorari. 345 U.S. 974. Affirmed, p. 346 U. S. 513.

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