Boykin v. Alabama

United States Supreme Court

395 U.S. 238, 89 S.Ct. 1709, 23 L.Ed.2d 274 (1969)

 

      Here the Supreme Court holds that because a plea of guilty constitutes a waiver of the right to trial, the trial judge must determine that a defendant’s guilty plea is being entered knowingly and intelligently before accepting the plea.

 

Mr. Justice Douglas delivered the opinion of the Court.

 

      In the spring of 1966, within the period of a fortnight, a series of armed robberies occurred in Mobile, Alabama. The victims, in each case, were local shopkeepers open at night who were forced by a gunman to hand over money. While robbing one grocery store, the assailant fired his gun once, sending a bullet through a door into the ceiling. A few days earlier in a drugstore, the robber had allowed his gun to discharge in such a way that the bullet, on ricochet from the floor, struck a customer in the leg. Shortly thereafter a local grand jury returned five indictments against petitioner, a 27-year-old Negro, for common-law robbery—an offense punishable in Alabama by death.

 

      Before the matter came to trial, the court determined that petitioner was indigent and appointed counsel to represent him. Three days later, at his arraignment, petitioner pleaded guilty to all five indictments. So far as the record shows, the judge asked no questions of petitioner concerning his plea, and petitioner did not address the court. ...

 

      A plea of guilty is more than a confession which admits that the accused did various acts; it is itself a conviction; nothing remains but to give judgment and determine punishment. ... Admissibility of a confession must be based on a “reliable determination on the voluntariness issue which satisfies the constitutional rights of the defendant.” ... The requirement that the prosecution spread on the record the prerequisites of a valid waiver is no constitutional innovation. ... “The record must show, or there must be an allegation and evidence which show, that an accused was offered counsel but intelligently and understandingly rejected the offer. Anything less is not waiver.” …

 

      We think that the same standard must be applied to determining whether a guilty plea is voluntarily made. For, as we have said, a plea of guilty is more than an admission of conduct; it is a conviction. Ignorance, incomprehension, coercion, terror, inducements, subtle or blatant threats might be a perfect cover-up of unconstitutionality. The question of an effective waiver of a federal constitutional right in a proceeding is of course governed by federal standards. ...

 

      Several federal constitutional rights are involved in a waiver that takes place when a plea of guilty is entered in a state criminal trial. First, is the privilege against compulsory self-incrimination guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment and applicable to the States by reason of the Fourteenth. ... Second, is the right to trial by jury. ... Third, is the right to confront one’s accusers. ... We cannot presume a waiver of these three important federal rights from a silent record.

 

      What is at stake for an accused facing death or imprisonment demands the utmost solicitude of which courts are capable in canvassing the matter with the accused to make sure he has a full understanding of what the plea connotes and of its consequence. When the judge discharges that function, he leaves a record adequate for any review that may be later sought ... and forestalls the spin-off of collateral proceedings that seek to probe murky memories.

 

      The three dissenting justices in the Alabama Supreme Court stated the law accurately when they concluded that there was reversible error “because the record does not disclose that the defendant voluntarily and understandingly entered his pleas of guilty.” ...

 

 

Mr. Justice Harlan, whom Mr. Justice Black joins, dissenting. ...

 

      The Court today holds that petitioner Boykin was denied due process of law, and that his robbery convictions must be reversed outright, solely because “the record [is] inadequate to show that petitioner ... intelligently and knowingly pleaded guilty.” … The Court thus in effect fastens upon the States, as a matter of federal constitutional law, the rigid prophylactic requirements of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. It does so in circumstances where the Court itself has only very recently held application of Rule 11 to be unnecessary in the federal courts. …Moreover, the Court does all this at the behest of a petitioner who has never at any time alleged that his guilty plea was involuntary or made without knowledge of the consequences. I cannot possibly subscribe to so bizarre a result. …

 

      I would hold that petitioner Boykin is not entitled to outright reversal of his conviction simply because of the “inadequacy” of the record pertaining to his guilty plea. Further, I would not vacate the judgment below and remand for a state-court hearing on voluntariness. For even if it is assumed for the sake of argument that petitioner would be entitled to such a hearing if he had alleged that the plea was involuntary, a matter which I find it unnecessary to decide, the fact is that he has never made any such claim. Hence, I consider that petitioner's present arguments relating to his guilty plea entitle him to no federal relief.