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decided: April 3, 1950.



Vinson, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Jackson, Burton, Clark, Minton; Douglas took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Reed

[ 339 U.S. Page 201]

 MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner Darr, an inmate of the Oklahoma state penitentiary, has been denied federal habeas corpus for failure to exhaust his other available remedies. Petitioner's omission to apply here for certiorari from the state court's denial of habeas corpus was held an error, fatal to consideration on the merits. Therefore the merits of petitioner's claims of imprisonment in violation of the Constitution are not before us. The petition for certiorari requires us to pass solely upon the correctness of the lower court's view that ordinarily a petition for certiorari must be made to this Court from a state court's refusal of collateral relief before a federal district court will consider an application for habeas corpus on its merits.

Petitioner was serving a term in the Oklahoma state penitentiary when, on November 28, 1930, he was summoned to appear in another Oklahoma county to plead to two separate charges of armed bank robbery. In January of 1931, he was tried by jury, and convicted on the first charge; petitioner then pleaded guilty to the second. He was sentenced to two terms of forty years each, to run consecutively, and the first sentence is now being served.

[ 339 U.S. Page 202]

     No appeal from the conviction was taken, but in 1947 petitioner applied to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals for habeas corpus. Judging only from the state court's opinion,*fn1 for the original petition is not included in the record before us, petitioner alleged in the state court that he had been without funds to employ counsel, that he had not had the aid of counsel of his own choosing, and had not been provided sufficient time to procure and prepare witnesses for his defense. These allegations were reviewed by the state court and the writ was denied on the merits. No application for certiorari was made here.

Petitioner then filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma the application for habeas corpus here at bar. The allegations were those passed upon by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, with the addition of a claim that petitioner's plea of guilty to the second armed robbery charge had been coerced. After hearing petitioner's testimony in open court, the District Judge examined into the merits sufficiently to assure himself that no extraordinary circumstances existed sufficient to justify federal inquiry into the merits of petitioner's allegations without the exhaustion of all other available remedies.*fn2 He then concluded that the writ must be discharged as to the first sentence since petitioner had not applied for certiorari here from the state court's denial of habeas corpus. The allegations of a coerced plea underlying the second sentence could not properly be considered, held the court, first, because petitioner had not raised the point in the state proceeding, and further because petitioner is not presently being detained under that sentence. Therefore no adjudication on the merits was given.*fn3 The Court of Appeals for the

[ 339 U.S. Page 203]

     Tenth Circuit affirmed, one judge dissenting from the proposition that application for certiorari is a requisite step in the exhaustion of remedy.*fn4

It is not argued that the courts below state the law incorrectly insofar as the second conviction is concerned. It has long been settled that the federal courts will not consider on habeas corpus claims which have not been raised in the state tribunal;*fn5 and in any event, it is unquestioned doctrine that only the sentence being served is subject to habeas corpus attack.*fn6 Further, since neither court based its conclusion upon petitioner's failure to appeal from his initial conviction, that issue is not before us. There is no problem of jurisdiction or power in the federal courts to consider applications for habeas corpus. Nor is there at issue the effect of a refusal of certiorari by this Court upon future applications for federal habeas corpus by the state prisoner. The issue of exhaustion of remedy, however, is not only of vital concern to those who would seek the protection of the Great Writ, but in the case of state prisoners is crucial to the relationship between the state and federal sovereignties in the exercise of their coordinate power over habeas corpus. Doubt respecting this issue should not go unresolved. We therefore granted certiorari. 337 U.S. 923.

The writ of habeas corpus commands general recognition as the essential remedy to safeguard a citizen against imprisonment by State or Nation in violation of his constitutional rights.*fn7 To make this protection effective for unlettered prisoners without friends or funds, federal courts have long disregarded legalistic requirements in examining applications for the writ and judged the papers

[ 339 U.S. Page 204]

     by the simple statutory test of whether facts are alleged that entitle the applicant to relief.*fn8

This favorable attitude toward procedural difficulties accords with the salutary purpose of Congress in extending in 1867 the scope of federal habeas corpus beyond an examination of the commitment papers under which a prisoner was held to the "very truth and substance of the causes of his detention."*fn9 Through this extension of the boundaries of federal habeas corpus, persons restrained in violation of constitutional rights may regain their freedom. But, since the 1867 statute granted jurisdiction to federal courts to examine into alleged unconstitutional restraint of prisoners by state power, it created an area of potential conflict between state and federal courts. As it would be unseemly in our dual system of government for a federal district court to upset a state court conviction without an opportunity to the state courts to correct a constitutional violation, the federal courts sought a means to avoid such collisions. Solution was found in the doctrine of comity between courts, a doctrine which teaches that one court should defer action on causes properly within its jurisdiction until the courts of another sovereignty with concurrent powers, and already cognizant of the litigation, have had an opportunity to pass upon the matter.*fn10

Since habeas corpus is a discretionary writ, federal courts had authority to refuse relief as a matter of comity until state remedies were exhausted. Through this

[ 339 U.S. Page 205]

     comity, the doctrine of exhaustion of state remedies has developed steadily from cases refusing federal habeas corpus before state trial to a statutory direction that federal courts shall not grant the writ to a state prisoner until state remedies have been exhausted. Ex parte Royall,*fn11 decided in 1886, held that a federal district court had jurisdiction to release before trial a state prisoner who was held in violation of federal constitutional rights, but it approved denial of the writ as a matter of discretion. It was not to be presumed that "the decision of the State court would be otherwise than is required by the fundamental law of the land, or that it would disregard the settled principles of constitutional law announced by this court . . . ."*fn12 Analogy was found in earlier cases where state and federal jurisdiction to attach property had been found to overlap. Apropos were the words of the Court in Covell v. Heyman :*fn13

"The forbearance which courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction, administered under a single system, exercise towards each other, whereby conflicts are avoided, by avoiding interference with the process of each other, is a principle of comity, with perhaps no higher sanction than the utility which comes from concord; but between State courts and those of the United States, it is something more. It is a principle of right and of law, and therefore, of necessity."

In the same term of court the doctrine was advanced to its next stage, for in Ex parte Fonda*fn14 the prisoner sought his federal relief in this Court after his state conviction but before he had prosecuted his appeal to the state appellate tribunal. Stressing the importance of noninterference

[ 339 U.S. Page 206]

     with the orderly processes of appellate review, this Court denied the writ, for if the trial court had erred to the prejudice of petitioner's constitutional rights, it could not be assumed that the state appellate court would suffer the error to go uncorrected.*fn15

The established doctrine was applied to meet the variations presented by the cases. By 1891, it was clear that a federal circuit court committed no error in refusing a writ on the ground that the petitioner had not come to this Court on writ of error;*fn16 and a great body of cases affirmed this holding that the petitioner should be "put to his writ of error."*fn17 Baker v. Grice*fn18 states the reason for the rule that after a final determination of the case by the state court, the federal courts will even then generally leave the petitioner to his remedy by writ of error from this Court.

". . . It is an exceedingly delicate jurisdiction given to the Federal courts by which a person under an indictment in a state court and subject to its laws may, by the decision of a single judge of the Federal court, upon a writ of habeas corpus, be taken out of the custody of the officers of the State and finally discharged therefrom, and thus a trial by the state courts of an indictment found under the laws of a State be finally prevented."

And to this the Court added, in Markuson v. Boucher,*fn19 the explicit reason why the exhaustion principle must

[ 339 U.S. Page 207]

     extend to remedies available in this Court as well as those open in the state tribunals.

"The jurisdiction is more delicate, the reason against its exercise stronger, when a single judge is invoked to reverse the decision of the highest court of a State in which the constitutional rights of a prisoner could have been claimed . . . ."

In 1913, a petitioner was denied an original writ here even though he had appealed and had applied for state habeas corpus, with the comment that writ of error to this Court was required.*fn20 And following next upon the heels of an adjudication that a state habeas corpus action is a "suit" yielding a final reviewable judgment,*fn21 came the leading case of Mooney v. Holohan,*fn22 clearly establishing the rule that available collateral attacks in the state tribunals must be exhausted in addition to direct attacks on the conviction.*fn23 In 1944 the unanimous per curiam opinion of Ex parte Hawk stated the fully developed and established exhaustion doctrine in its most frequently quoted form.*fn24

"Ordinarily an application for habeas corpus by one detained under a state court judgment of conviction for crime will be entertained by a federal court only after all state remedies available, including all appellate remedies in the state courts and in this Court by appeal or writ of certiorari, have been exhausted."

[ 339 U.S. Page 208]

     The doctrine of Ex parte Hawk has been repeatedly approved,*fn25 and in White v. Ragen the same Court again unanimously restated that principle in the clearest language.*fn26

"Where the highest state court in which a decision could be had considers and adjudicates the merits of a petition for habeas corpus, state remedies, including appellate review, are not exhausted so as to permit the filing of a petition for habeas corpus in a federal district court, unless the federal question involved is presented to this Court on certiorari or appeal from the state court decision."

Thus comity, which had constrained the lower federal courts to refuse a grant of the Great Writ when remedies in state courts were still open, brought forth the related rule that lower federal courts ordinarily will not allow habeas corpus if the applicant has not exhausted his remedy in this Court by certiorari or appeal from state courts' refusal of relief on collateral attack.

In Wade v. Mayo alone,*fn27 a case decided less than four years later, does there appear language that may be construed as a departure from the established rule. The District Court was allowed to hear Wade's petition for habeas corpus even though he had not applied here for certiorari, because there was grave doubt whether the state judgment constituted an adjudication of a federal question. The Court said, at p. 682:

"That doubt was such as to make it reasonably certain that this Court would have denied certiorari on the theory that an adequate state ground appeared

[ 339 U.S. Page 209]

     to underlie the judgment. His failure to make this futile attempt to secure certiorari accordingly should not prejudice his subsequent petition for habeas corpus in the District Court."

We had pointed out in White v. Ragen, supra, a per curiam expressly reiterating the Hawk doctrine, that where a state court's "decision is based upon some other adequate non-federal ground, it is unnecessary for the petitioner to ask this Court for certiorari in order to exhaust his state remedies, since we would lack jurisdiction to review the decision of the state court."*fn28

Not limiting its discussion to the holding on the Hawk exception, however, Wade also treated with the general Hawk rule of the necessity for review here before seeking the writ in the federal district court. The thought behind the language on that point evidently was that review here is not usually required as a condition to a hearing on the merits in the district court. Wade did recognize that failure to come here might be relevant in determining whether a district court should entertain an application. On p. 680 it is said:

"After state procedure has been exhausted, the concern is with the appropriate federal forum in which to pursue further the constitutional claim. The choice lies between applying directly to this Court for review of the constitutional issue by certiorari or instituting an original habeas corpus proceeding in a federal district court. Considerations of prompt and orderly procedure in the federal courts

[ 339 U.S. Page 210]

     will often dictate that direct review be sought first in this Court. And where a prisoner has neglected to seek that review, such failure may be a relevant consideration for a district court in determining whether to entertain a subsequent habeas corpus petition."

We do not stop to re-examine the meaning of Wade's specific language. Whatever deviation Wade may imply from the established rule will be corrected by this decision.

Ex parte Hawk prescribes only what should "ordinarily" be the proper procedure; all the cited cases from Ex parte Royall to Hawk recognize that much cannot be foreseen, and that "special circumstances" justify departure from rules designed to regulate the usual case. The exceptions are few but they exist.*fn29 Other situations may develop. Compare Moore v. Dempsey, 261 U.S. 86. Congress has now made statutory allowance for exceptions such as these, leaving federal courts free to grant habeas corpus when ...

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