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Holt v. United States

February 11, 1964


Author: Schnackenberg

Before DUFFY, SCHNACKENBERG and MAJOR, Circuit Judges.


By a petition for writ of error coram nobis, Melvin C. Holt seeks in effect review of two orders of the district court entered July 1, 1963 denying his petitions under 28 U.S.C.A. § 2255 and for a writ of error coram nobis filed on July 1, 1963. In the § 2255 petition he charged he had been deprived of his constitutional rights, in proceedings in that court which took place on October 16, 1961, after he was charged, in case No. 6069, with transporting in interstate commerce forged and counterfeited securities, and in case No. 6054, with escape from jail while held on criminal charges*fn1 He prayed that the judgment be vacated and counsel appointed to defend him.

Petitioner had already sought relief by petition for a writ of certiorari which he filed in the United States Supreme Court on August 24, 1962, attacking our orders of May 23 and 29, 1962, denying his motion to appeal in forma pauperis. The granting of relief was there opposed by the United States Solicitor General, who filed a comprehensive brief, which referred to the proceedings in the district court.

In his brief the Solicitor General said that petitioner's principal contention was that his plea of guilty was coerced, because he had an understanding with the assistant United States attorney which amounted to a promise or guarantee of a five-year sentence if he would change his plea. The Solicitor General stated: "This claim is refuted by the record".He proceeded to analyze the charges and the reasons for recommending the denial of certiorari, which followed on March 4, 1963. 372 U.S. 937, 83 S. Ct. 884, 9 L. Ed. 2d 767.

By his petition dated May 21, 1963, Holt prayed for appointment of counsel.

On July 18 1963, the district court entered an order which found that the petition under § 2255 set up no basis for relief, that the questions raised had been adjudicated, and that petitioner had been afforded counsel at all stages of the proceedings before the court, and denied the petition.

Also on July 1, 1963, the court considered the document signed by petitioner on April 23, 1963, filed July 1, 1963, and entitled "Writ of error coram nobis", which is in the form of a brief, wherein he alleged that on October 16, 1961, when he entered his plea of guilty, he was suffering from mental illness and that, during a sanity hearing held on August 21, 1961, no consideration was given to "facts sufficient to point out the psychopathic condition of petitioner". This document prayed for a reversal of the sentence and judgment entered against petitioner.

Petitioner also alleged in his brief that, in July 1961, he procured an order from the district court for a mental examination and that petitioner's counsel brought to the court's attention Dr. Baumann's summation.

The court thereafter entered an order on July 1, 1963, finding that at all times petitioner was afforded the assistance of competent legal counsel, that psychiatric examination of petitioner, ordered and made prior to the acceptance of his plea of guilty, did not find the petitioner insane, or otherwise so mentally incompetent as to be unable to understand the proceedings against him or properly to assist in his own defense, and hence no hearing was required under 18 U.S.C.A. § 4244; that the court did determine at that time that the petitioner was of sound mind and able to understand the proceedings against him and properly assist in his own defense. The court denied the April 23, 1963 document.

On this appeal petitioner has been represented by attorneys Robert L. Bombaugh and Charles J. McCarthy of the Illinois bar, at this court's designation. They have rendered service of a high quality, for which we express our thanks.

We shall not contribute to the perplexity inherent in the record before us by describing in detail the complicated situation resulting from the various efforts used by petitioner to gain relief in this court. Rather than undertake to justify our jurisdiction to pass upon his contentions, we adopt the suggestion of government counsel in oral argument that our decision be based only on the question of substantive law which petitioner seeks to present, regardless of the method used by him in raising it here. We take this course advisedly, because of the unusual situation before us. Its uniqueness forecloses any citation of our decision here as a precedent in any other case.

1. It is petitioner's contention that the district court erred in accepting his pleas of guilty without first determining that the pleas were made voluntarily, with understanding of the nature of the charges and of the consequences. Reliance is placed upon rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, 18 U.S.C.A. rule 11, which provides:

"A defendant may plead not guilty, guilty or, with the consent of the court, nolo contendere . The court may refuse to accept a plea of guilty, and shall not accept the plea without first determining that the plea is made ...

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