Price v. Johnston
Decided on May 24, 1948; 334 US 266


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Habeas corpus

B. Legal Question Presented:

Did Petitioner so abuse the writ of habeas corpus as to bar a consideration of the allegation that the prosecution knowingly used false testimony to obtain a conviction?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Petitioner Price, who was not a lawyer, wrote his own petitions for habeas corpus relief. His first three petitions were not successful. In this fourth petition, eight years after his conviction, Price alleged, for the first time, that he had been convicted with testimony known to the prosecution to be false. The District Court denied his fourth petition without a hearing, assuming that the petitioner knew about the matter previously, and should have included it in his previous petitions. Circuit Court of Appeals held that it was without power to direct the petitioner's appearance in court to argue his appeal. On the merits of the habeas petition, the Circuit Court held that, absent an explanation for the earlier omissions, the District Court was correct in denying the petition.

On certiorari the US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the District Court for the Northern District of California.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Mr. Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., of Washington, DC, for petitioner. Mr. Frederick Bernays Wiener, of Washington, DC, for respondent.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"An order requiring the presence of a prisoner before a circuit court of appeals to argue his own appeal is one in the nature of a writ of habeas corpus... [C]ircuit courts of appeals do have the power under 262 of the Judicial Code to issue an order in the nature of a writ of habeas corpus commanding that a prisoner be brought to the courtroom to argue his own appeal...

There has thus been no proper occasion prior to the fourth proceeding for a hearing and determination by the District Court as to the allegation that the prosecution knowingly used false testimony to obtain a conviction... [T]he three prior applications did not raise the issue now under consideration and the three prior refusals to discharge petitioner can have no bearing or weight on the disposition to be made of the new matter raised in the fourth petition.

[E]ven if it is found that petitioner did have prior knowledge of all the facts concerning the allegation in question, it does not necessarily follow that the fourth petition should be dismissed without further opportunity to amend the pleadings or without holding a hearing... The primary purpose of a habeas corpus proceeding is to make certain that a man is not unjustly imprisoned. And if for some justifiable reason he was previously unable to assert his rights or was unaware of the significance of relevant facts, it is neither necessary nor reasonable to deny him all opportunity of obtaining judicial relief...

To that end, we reverse the judgment below and remand the instant case to the District Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

Justice Vote: 5 Pro vs. 4 Con

  • Murphy, F. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Black, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rutledge, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Douglas, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Burton, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Frankfurter, F. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Vinson, F. Con (Joined dissenting opinion)
  • Reed, S. Con (Joined dissenting opinion)
  • Jackson, R. Con (Joined dissenting opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the judgment of the District Court for the Northern District of California; the Supreme Court reversed in a 5-4 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.