Blackledge v. Allison - 431 U.S. 63 (1977)
U.S. Supreme Court
Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63 (1977)
Blackledge v. Allison
Argued February 22, 1977
Decided May 2, 1977
431 U.S. 63
At the arraignment of respondent, who had been indicted in North Carolina for various state criminal offenses, he entered a guilty plea to a single count of attempted safe robbery. In response to two of various form questions that under then-applicable procedures were put by the trial judge to those entering guilty pleas, respondent acknowledged that he understood that he could be imprisoned for a minimum of 10 years to a maximum of life, and that no one had made promises or threats to influence him to plead guilty. Without further questioning, the judge accepted the plea on an "Adjudication" form, which, inter alia, recited that respondent had pleaded guilty to attempted safe robbery "freely, understandingly and voluntarily," with full awareness of the consequences, and "without undue . . . compulsion . . . duress, [or] promise of leniency." At a sentencing hearing three days later, respondent was sentenced to 17-21 years. After unsuccessfully exhausting a state collateral remedy, respondent sought a writ of habeas corpus in a Federal District Court, claiming that his guilty plea had been induced by the promise of his attorney, who presumably had consulted with the judge and Solicitor, that he would get only a 10-year sentence. He also stated that he was aware that he had been questioned by the judge before sentencing, but thought that he was going to get only 10 years, and had been instructed to answer the questions so that the court would accept the guilty plea. The District Court granted a motion to dismiss the petition, on the ground that the form conclusively showed that respondent had chosen to plead guilty knowingly, voluntarily, and with full awareness of the consequences. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that respondent's allegation of a broken promise, as amplified by the explanation that his lawyer instructed him to deny the existence of any promises, was not foreclosed by his responses to the form questions, and that he was entitled to an evidentiary hearing, at least in the absence of counteraffidavits conclusively proving the falsity of respondent's allegations.
Held: In light of the nature of the record of the proceeding at which the guilty plea was accepted, and of the ambiguous status of the process of plea bargaining at the time the guilty plea was made, respondent's petition for a writ of habeas corpus should not have been summarily dismissed. Pp. 431 U. S. 71-83.
(a) Although the plea or sentencing proceeding record constitutes a formidable barrier to a collateral attack on a guilty plea, that barrier is not insurmountable, and, in administering the writ of habeas corpus, federal courts cannot fairly adopt a per se rule excluding all possibility that a defendant's representations at the time of his guilty plea were so much the product of such factors as misunderstanding, duress, or misrepresentation as to make that plea a constitutionally inadequate basis for imprisonment. Machibroda v. United States, 368 U. S. 487; Fontaine v. United States, 411 U. S. 213. Pp. 431 U. S. 71-75
(b) Respondent's allegations were not so vague or conclusory as to warrant dismissal for that reason alone. He elaborated on his claim with specific factual allegations, indicating exactly what the terms of the promise were; when, where, and by whom it had been made; and the identity of a witness to its communication. Pp. 431 U. S. 75-76.
(c) The North Carolina plea-bargaining procedure that was in effect at the time of respondent's arraignment reflected the atmosphere of secrecy that then characterized plea bargaining, whose legitimacy was not finally established until Santobello v. New York, 404 U. S. 257, which was decided not long before respondent's arraignment. There was no transcript of the proceeding, but only a standard printed form, and there is no way of knowing if the trial judge deviated from the form or whether any statements were made regarding promised sentencing concessions; nor is there any record of the sentencing hearing. The form questions did nothing to dispel a defendant's belief that any plea bargain had to be concealed. Particularly, if, as respondent alleged, he was advised by counsel to conceal any plea bargain, his denial that promises had been made might have been mere courtroom ritual. Pp. 431 U. S. 76-78.
(d) Though, through such procedures as summary judgment, discovery, or expansion of the record, it may develop that a full evidentiary hearing is not required, respondent is "entitled to careful consideration and plenary processing of [his claim,] including full opportunity for presentation of the relevant facts." Harris v. Nelson, 394 U. S. 286, 394 U. S. 298. Pp. 431 U. S. 80-82.
533 F.2d 894, affirmed.
STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 431 U. S. 83. BURGER, C.J., concurred in the judgment. REHNQUIST, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.