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decided: May 20, 1946.



Stone, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Murphy, Rutledge, Burton; Jackson took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Black

[ 328 U.S. Page 212]

 MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1940 the petitioner was indicted for murder in the Criminal Court of Cook County, Illinois. Adjudged to be guilty on an alleged plea of guilty, he was sentenced to serve ninety-nine years in the state penitentiary. In 1945 he filed two identical petitions for habeas corpus, one in the Criminal Court of Cook County and the other in the Randolph County Circuit Court. In summary the allegations of these petitions were:

On March 8th or 9th, 1940, Chicago policemen came to petitioner's home, accused him of murder, and arrested him. For a period of four days these policemen subjected him to mistreatment in an effort to force him to confess to the crime of murder. The policemen allegedly abused him, beat him with their hands, with blackjacks, and with clubs. At the end of four days, under threat of instant death if he failed to do so, petitioner signed a paper which he later discovered to be a confession. Petitioner averred that he was unable to employ counsel, that he had no counsel, and that he did not consult with counsel during the next two months while he was confined to jail. According to the allegations, petitioner was brought into court at the end of that period, and a public defender appeared as

[ 328 U.S. Page 213]

     his counsel; but the public defender declined to permit petitioner to explain the circumstances surrounding the confession. Moreover, despite petitioner's repeated assertion of his innocence, the defender allegedly entered a plea of guilty on behalf of petitioner. The allegations further assert that the public defender and the State's attorney threatened petitioner by telling him that he would burn in the electric chair if he did not keep his mouth shut, and that despite these threats petitioner pleaded not guilty and never did at any time consent to the guilty plea which is the basis for his ninety-nine year sentence.

Petitioner's contention before the two trial courts was that a judgment and sentence under these circumstances amounted to a denial of due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Randolph County Circuit Court denied petitioner's application for habeas corpus "for want of jurisdiction and failure to state a cause of action." The Cook County Criminal Court granted the State's motion to dismiss, made on the ground that the petition on its face failed to state a cause of action. In neither court was petitioner afforded an opportunity to offer evidence to prove his allegations. Neither court wrote an opinion explaining its order. Since Illinois does not provide for appellate review of an order denying a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the orders here involved were entered by the highest courts of the State that could have entered them. See White v. Ragen, 324 U.S. 760. This Court is consequently authorized to review these orders if they are based on decisions of federal questions. Tucker v. Texas, 326 U.S. 517. Because of the serious violations of the Fourteenth Amendment alleged by the petitioner, and because of uncertainty as to whether denial of his petitions rested on an adequate state ground, we granted certiorari.

[ 328 U.S. Page 214]

     The State, through its Attorney General, concedes that the allegations of the petitions for habeas corpus, if true, would show that conviction and sentencing of the petitioner violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The State contends, however, that the applications for habeas corpus were not denied on the ground that the allegations, if proved, would fail to show a violation of due process. According to the State, the denials of petitioner's applications rested on the separate and distinct ground that in the Illinois state courts habeas corpus is not the proper remedy for relief from judgments violating due process of law in the manner here alleged. The contention is that the exclusive relief against such judgments is provided by a statutory substitute for the common law writ of error coram nobis, Ch. 110, par. 196, Illinois Revised Statutes, 1945. The petitioner counters by calling attention to the fact that the statutory remedy is not available unless brought within five years after the rendition of a judgment; that the judgment and sentence against petitioner was rendered more than five years ago; that consequently, if petitioner has no remedy for habeas corpus, he has no remedy at all; that we should not assume that Illinois grants no relief to one whose imprisonment violates rights protected by the United States Constitution, cf. Smith v. O'Grady, 312 U.S. 329; and that we should therefore hold that habeas corpus is available to the petitioner.

From our investigation of the law of the State of Illinois we conclude that the denials of the applications in this case could have rested, and probably did rest, on the ground that habeas corpus is not the proper remedy in cases such as the one before us. For this reason we are without power to review the judgments, see Williams v. Kaiser, 323 U.S. 471, 477, and the writs of certiorari must be dismissed. The Supreme Court of Illinois has repeatedly held that a court of the State has jurisdiction of a

[ 328 U.S. Page 215]

     habeas corpus proceeding only where the original judgment of conviction was void or where something has happened since its rendition to entitle the petitioner to his release. According to Illinois Supreme Court decisions, this means that if the petition and return in the habeas corpus proceeding show that the court which rendered the original judgment had jurisdiction over the person and over the subject matter, and nothing has happened since the conviction to entitle the applicant to his release, the court to which the petition is addressed lacks power to discharge the prisoner.*fn1 The petitions for habeas corpus here involved did not challenge the court's jurisdiction over the person, nor did they allege that anything had happened since the rendition of the judgment which would entitle the petitioner to his release. The allegations that petitioner did not consent to the guilty plea and ...

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