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decided: May 4, 1970.



Burger, Black, Douglas, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart, White, Marshall

Author: White

[ 397 U.S. Page 760]

 MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petition for certiorari, which we granted, 396 U.S. 813 (1969), seeks reversal of three separate judgments of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ordering hearings on petitions for habeas corpus filed by the respondents in this case.*fn1 The principal issue before us is whether and to what extent an otherwise valid guilty plea may be impeached in collateral proceedings by assertions or proof that the plea was motivated by a prior coerced confession. We find ourselves in substantial disagreement with the Court of Appeals.

[ 397 U.S. Page 761]


The three respondents now before us are Dash, Richardson, and Williams. We first state the essential facts involved as to each.

Dash: In February 1959, respondent Dash was charged with first-degree robbery which, because Dash had previously been convicted of a felony, was punishable by up to 60 years' imprisonment.*fn2 After pleading guilty to robbery in the second degree in April, he was sentenced to a term of eight to 12 years as a second-felony offender.*fn3 His petition for collateral relief in the state courts in 1963 was denied without a hearing.*fn4

[ 397 U.S. Page 762]

     Relief was then sought in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York where his petition for habeas corpus alleged that his guilty plea was the illegal product of a coerced confession and of the trial judge's threat to impose a 60-year sentence if he was convicted after a plea of not guilty. His petition asserted that he had been beaten, refused counsel, and threatened with false charges prior to his confession and that the trial judge's threat was made during an off-the-record colloquy in one of Dash's appearances in court prior to the date of his plea of guilty. Dash also asserted that his court-appointed attorney had advised pleading guilty since Dash did not "stand a chance due to the alleged confession signed" by him. The District Court denied the petition without a hearing because "a voluntary plea of guilty entered on advice of counsel constitutes a waiver of all non-jurisdictional defects in any prior stage of the proceedings against the defendant," citing United States ex rel. Glenn v. McMann, 349 F.2d 1018 (C. A. 2d Cir. 1965), cert. denied, 383 U.S. 915 (1966), and other cases. The allegation of coercion by the trial judge did not call for a hearing since the prosecutor had filed an affidavit in the state court categorically denying that the trial judge ever threatened the defendant. Dash then appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Richardson: Respondent Richardson was indicted in April 1963 for murder in the first degree. Two attorneys were assigned to represent Richardson. He initially pleaded not guilty but in July withdrew his plea and pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree, specifically admitting at the time that he struck the victim with a knife. He was convicted and sentenced to a term of 30 years to life. Following the denial without a hearing of his application for collateral relief in the

[ 397 U.S. Page 763]

     state courts,*fn5 Richardson filed his petition for habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, alleging in conclusory fashion that his plea of guilty was induced by a coerced confession and by ineffective court-appointed counsel. His petition was denied without a hearing, and he appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, including with his appellate brief a supplemental affidavit in which he alleged that he was beaten into confessing the crime, that his assigned attorney conferred with him only 10 minutes prior to the day the plea of guilty was taken, that he advised his attorney that he did not want to plead guilty to something he did not do, and that his attorney advised him to plead guilty to avoid the electric chair, saying that "this was not the proper time to bring up the confession" and that Richardson "could later explain by a writ of habeas corpus how my confession had been beaten out of me."

Williams: In February 1956, respondent Williams was indicted for five felonies, including rape and robbery. He pleaded guilty to robbery in the second degree in March and was sentenced in April to a term of 7 1/2 to 15 years. After unsuccessful applications for collateral relief in the state courts,*fn6 he petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, asserting that his plea was the consequence of a coerced confession and was made without an understanding of the nature of the

[ 397 U.S. Page 764]

     charge and the consequences of the plea. In his petition and in documents supporting it, allegations were made that he had been handcuffed to a desk while being interrogated, that he was threatened with a pistol and physically abused, and that his attorney, in advising him to plead guilty, ignored his alibi defense and represented that his plea would be to a misdemeanor charge rather than to a felony charge. The petition was denied without a hearing and Williams appealed.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed in each case, sitting en banc and dividing six to three in Dash's case*fn7 and disposing of Richardson's and Williams' cases in decisions by three-judge panels.*fn8 In each case it was directed that a hearing be held on the petition for habeas corpus.*fn9 It was the Court of Appeals' view that

[ 397 U.S. Page 765]

     a plea of guilty is an effective waiver of pretrial irregularities only if the plea is voluntary and that a plea is not voluntary if it is the consequence of an involuntary confession.*fn10 That the petitioner was represented by counsel and denied the existence of coercion or promises when tendering his plea does not foreclose a hearing on his petition for habeas corpus alleging matters outside the state court record. Although conclusory allegations would in no case suffice, the allegations in each of these cases concerning the manner in which the confession was coerced and the connection between the confession and the plea were deemed sufficient to require a hearing. The law required this much, the Court of Appeals thought, at least in New York, where prior to Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368 (1964), constitutionally acceptable procedures were unavailable to a defendant to test the voluntariness of his confession. The Court of Appeals also ordered a hearing in each case for reasons other than that the plea was claimed to rest on a coerced confession which the defendant had no adequate opportunity to test in the state courts. In the Dash case, the additional issue to be considered was whether the trial judge coerced the guilty plea by threats as to the probable sentence after trial and conviction on a plea of not guilty; in Richardson, the additional issue was the inadequacy of counsel allegedly arising from the

[ 397 U.S. Page 766]

     short period of consultation and counsel's advice to the effect that the confession issue could be raised after a plea of guilty; and in Williams, the additional question was the alleged failure of counsel to consider Williams' alibi defense and to make it clear that he was pleading to a felony rather than to a misdemeanor.


The core of the Court of Appeals' holding is the proposition that if in a collateral proceeding a guilty plea is shown to have been triggered by a coerced confession -- if there would have been no plea had there been no confession -- the plea is vulnerable at least in cases coming from New York where the guilty plea was taken prior to Jackson v. Denno, supra. We are unable to agree with the Court of Appeals on this proposition.

A conviction after a plea of guilty normally rests on the defendant's own admission in open court that he committed the acts with which he is charged. Brady v. United States, ante, at 748; McCarthy v. United States, 394 U.S. 459, 466 (1969). That admission may not be compelled, and since the plea is also a waiver of trial -- and unless the applicable law otherwise provides,*fn11 a waiver of the right to contest the admissibility of any evidence the State might have offered against the defendant -- it must be an intelligent act "done with sufficient awareness of the relevant circumstances and likely consequences." Brady v. United States, ante, at 748.

[ 397 U.S. Page 767]

     For present purposes, we put aside those cases where the defendant has his own reasons for pleading guilty wholly aside from the strength of the case against him as well as those cases where the defendant, although he would have gone to trial had he thought the State could not prove its case, is motivated by evidence against him independent of the confession. In these cases, as the Court of Appeals recognized, the confession, even if coerced, is not a sufficient factor in the plea to justify relief. Neither do we have before us the uncounseled defendant, see Pennsylvania ex rel. Herman v. Claudy, 350 U.S. 116 (1956), nor the situation where the circumstances that coerced the confession have abiding impact and also taint the plea. Cf. Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227 (1940). It is not disputed that in such cases a guilty plea is properly open to challenge.*fn12

The issue on which we differ with the Court of Appeals arises in those situations involving the counseled defendant who allegedly would put the State to its proof if there was a substantial enough chance of acquittal, who would do so except for a prior confession that might be offered against him, and who because of the confession decides to plead guilty to save himself the expense and agony of a trial and perhaps also to minimize

[ 397 U.S. Page 768]

     the penalty that might be imposed. After conviction on such a plea, is a defendant entitled to a hearing, and to relief if his factual claims are accepted, when his petition for habeas corpus alleges that his confession was in fact coerced and that it motivated his plea? We think not if he alleges and proves no more than this.


Since we are dealing with a defendant who deems his confession crucial to the State's case against him and who would go to trial if he thought his chances of acquittal were good, his decision to plead guilty or not turns on whether he thinks the law will allow his confession to be used against him. For the defendant who considers his confession involuntary and hence unusable against him at a trial, tendering a plea of guilty would seem a most improbable alternative. The sensible course would be to contest his guilt, prevail on his confession claim at trial, on appeal, or, if necessary, in a collateral proceeding, and win acquittal, however guilty he might be. The books are full of cases in New York and elsewhere, where the defendant has made this choice and has prevailed. If he nevertheless pleads guilty the plea can hardly be blamed on the confession which in his view was inadmissible evidence and no proper part of the State's case. Since by hypothesis the evidence aside from the confession is weak and the defendant has no reasons of his own to plead, a guilty plea in such circumstances is nothing less than a refusal to present his federal claims to the state court in the first instance -- a choice by the defendant to take the benefits, if any, of a plea of guilty and then to pursue his coerced-confession claim in collateral proceedings. Surely later allegations that the confession rendered his plea involuntary would appear incredible, and whether his plain bypass

[ 397 U.S. Page 769]

     of state remedies was an intelligent act depends on whether he was so incompetently advised by counsel concerning the forum in which he should first present his federal claim that the Constitution will afford him another chance to plead.

A more credible explanation for a plea of guilty by a defendant who would go to trial except for his prior confession is his prediction that the law will permit his admissions to be used against him by the trier of fact. At least the probability of the State's being permitted to use the confession as evidence is sufficient to convince him that the State's case is too strong to contest and that a plea of guilty is the most advantageous course. Nothing in this train of events suggests that the defendant's plea, as distinguished from his confession, is an involuntary act. His later petition for collateral relief asserting that a coerced confession induced his plea is at most a claim that the admissibility of his confession was mistakenly assessed and that since he was erroneously ...

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