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SUNAL v. LARGE

decided: June 23, 1947.

SUNAL
v.
LARGE, SUPERINTENDENT, FEDERAL PRISON CAMP



CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT.*fn*

Vinson, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Murphy, Jackson, Rutledge, Burton

Author: Douglas

[ 332 U.S. Page 175]

 MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Sunal and Kulick registered under the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, 54 Stat. 885, 57 Stat. 597, 50 U. S. C. App. § 301, et seq. Each is a Jehovah's Witness and each claimed the exemption granted by Congress to regular or duly ordained ministers of religion.*fn1 § 5 (d). The local boards, after proceedings unnecessary to relate here, denied the claimed exemptions and classified these registrants as I-A. They exhausted their administrative remedies but were unable to effect a change in their classifications.

[ 332 U.S. Page 176]

     Thereafter they were ordered to report for induction -- Sunal on October 25, 1944, Kulick on November 9, 1944. Each reported but refused to submit to induction. Each was thereupon indicted, tried and convicted under § 11 of the Act for refusing to submit to induction. Sunal was sentenced on March 22, 1945, Kulick on May 7, 1945, each to imprisonment for a term of years. Neither appealed.

At the trial each offered evidence to show that his selective service classification was invalid. The trial courts held, however, that such evidence was inadmissible, that the classification was final and not open to attack in the criminal trial. On February 4, 1946, we decided Estep v. United States and Smith v. United States, 327 U.S. 114. These cases*fn2 held on comparable facts that a registrant, who had exhausted his administrative remedies and thus obviated the rule of Falbo v. United States, 320 U.S. 549, was entitled, when tried under § 11, to defend on the ground that his local board exceeded its jurisdiction in making the classification -- for example, that it had no basis in fact. 327 U.S. pp. 122-123.

It is plain, therefore, that the trial courts erred in denying Sunal and Kulick the defense which they tendered. Shortly after the Estep and Smith cases were decided, petitions for writs of habeas corpus were filed on behalf of Sunal and Kulick. In each case it was held that habeas corpus was an available remedy. In Sunal's case the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that there was a basis in fact for the classification and affirmed a judgment discharging the writ. 157 F.2d 165.

[ 332 U.S. Page 177]

     In Kulick's case the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed a District Court holding that there was evidence to support the classification, 66 F.Supp. 183, and ruled, without examining the evidence, that since Kulick had been deprived of the defense he should be discharged from custody without prejudice to further prosecution. 157 F.2d 811. The cases are here on petitions for writs of certiorari, which we granted because of the importance of the questions presented.

The normal and customary method of correcting errors of the trial is by appeal. Appeals could have been taken in these cases,*fn3 but they were not. It cannot be said that absence of counsel made the appeals unavailable as a practical matter. See Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 467. Defendants had counsel. Nor was there any other barrier to the perfection of their appeals. Cf. Cochran v. Kansas, 316 U.S. 255. Moreover, this is not a situation where the facts relied on were dehors the record and therefore not open to consideration and review on appeal. See Waley v. Johnston, 316 U.S. 101, 104; United States ex rel. McCann v. Adams, 320 U.S. 220, 221. And see Adams v. United States ex rel. McCann, 317 U.S. 269, 274-275. The error was of record in each case. It is said, however, that the failure to appeal was excusable, since under the decisions as they then stood -- March 22, 1945, and May 7, 1945 -- the lower courts had consistently ruled that the selective service classification could not be attacked in a prosecution under § 11. See Estep v. United States, supra, p. 123, n. 15. It is also pointed out that on April 30, 1945, we had denied certiorari in a case which sought to raise the same

[ 332 U.S. Page 178]

     point,*fn4 and that Estep v. United States, supra, and Smith v. United States, supra, were brought here*fn5 and decided after Sunal's and Kulick's time for appeal had passed. The argument is that since the state of the law made the appeals seem futile, it would be unfair to those registrants to conclude them by their failure to appeal.

We put to one side comparable problems respecting the use of habeas corpus in the federal courts to challenge convictions obtained in the state courts. See New York v. Eno, 155 U.S. 89; Tinsley v. Anderson, 171 U.S. 101, 104-105; United States ex rel. Kennedy v. Tyler, 269 U.S. 13; Ex parte Hawk, 321 U.S. 114, 116-117. So far as convictions obtained in the federal courts are concerned, the general rule is that the writ of habeas corpus will not be allowed to do service for an appeal. Adams v. United States ex rel. McCann, supra, p. 274. There have been, however, some exceptions. That is to say, the writ has at times been entertained either without consideration of the adequacy of relief by the appellate route or where an appeal would have afforded an adequate remedy. Illustrative are those instances where the conviction was under a federal statute alleged to be unconstitutional,*fn6 where there was a conviction by a federal court whose jurisdiction over the person or the offense was challenged,*fn7 where the trial or sentence by a federal court violated

[ 332 U.S. Page 179]

     specific constitutional guaranties.*fn8 It is plain, however, that the writ is not designed for collateral review of errors of law committed by the trial court -- the existence of any evidence to support the conviction,*fn9 irregularities in the grand jury procedure,*fn10 departure from a statutory grant of time in which to prepare for trial,*fn11 and other errors in trial procedure which do not cross the jurisdictional line. Cf. Craig v. Hecht, 263 U.S. 255.

Yet the latter rule is not an absolute one; and the situations in which habeas corpus has done service for an appeal are the exceptions. Thus where the jurisdiction of the federal court which tried the case is challenged or where the constitutionality of the federal statute under which conviction was had is attacked, habeas corpus is increasingly denied in case an appellate procedure was available for correction of the error.*fn12 Yet, on the other hand, where the error was flagrant and there was no other remedy available for its correction, relief by habeas corpus has sometimes been granted.*fn13 As stated by Chief Justice

[ 332 U.S. Page 180]

     Hughes in Bowen v. Johnston, 306 U.S. 19, 27, the rule which requires resort to appellate procedure for the correction of errors "is not one defining power but one which relates to the appropriate exercise of power." That rule is, therefore, "not so inflexible that it may not yield to exceptional circumstances where the need for the remedy afforded by the writ of habeas corpus is apparent." Id. p. 27. That case was deemed to involve "exceptional circumstances" by reason of the fact that it indicated "a conflict between state and federal authorities on a question of law involving concerns of large importance affecting their respective jurisdictions." Id. p. 27. The Court accordingly entertained the writ to examine into the jurisdiction of the court to render the judgment of conviction.

The same course was followed in Ex parte Hudgings, 249 U.S. 378, where petitioner was adjudged guilty of contempt for committing perjury. The Court did not require the petitioner to pursue any appellate route but issued an original writ and discharged him, holding that perjury without more was not punishable as a contempt. That situation was deemed exceptional in view of "the nature of the case, of the relation which the question which it involves bears generally to the power and duty of courts in the performance of their functions, of the dangerous effect on the liberty of the citizen when called upon as a witness in a court which might result if the erroneous doctrine upon which the order under review was based were not promptly corrected . . . ." Id. p. 384. Cf. Craig v. Hecht, supra.

The Circuit Courts of Appeals thought that the facts of the present cases likewise presented exceptional circumstances

[ 332 U.S. Page 181]

     which justified resort to habeas corpus though no appeals were taken. In their view the failure to appeal was excusable, since relief by that route seemed quite futile.

But denial of certiorari by this Court in the earlier case imported no expression of opinion on the merits. House v. Mayo, 324 U.S. 42, 48, and cases cited. The same chief counsel represented the defendants in the present cases and those in the Estep and Smith cases. At the time these defendants were convicted the Estep and Smith cases were pending before the appellate courts. The petition in the Smith case was, indeed, filed here about two weeks before Kulick's conviction and about a month after Sunal's conviction. The same road was open to Sunal and Kulick as the one Smith and Estep took. Why the legal strategy counseled taking appeals in the Smith and Estep cases and not in these we do not know. Perhaps it was based on the facts of these two cases. For the question of law had not been decided by the Court; and counsel was pressing for a decision here. The case, therefore, is not one where the law was changed after the time for appeal had expired. Cf. Warring v. Colpoys, 122 F.2d 642. It is rather a situation where at the time of the convictions the definitive ruling on the question of law had not crystallized. ...


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