WILLIAMS V. KAISER, 323 U. S. 471 (1945)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Williams v. Kaiser, 323 U.S. 471 (1945)

Williams v. Kaiser

No. 102

Argued December 12, 1944

Decided January 8, 1945

323 U.S. 471


In a petition to the Supreme Court of Missouri for a writ of habeas corpus, the petitioner, confined in a state penitentiary under a 15-year sentence for robbery by means of a deadly weapon (a capital offense in Missouri), alleged that, prior to his conviction, he requested the aid of counsel, but that none was appointed; that he did not waive his constitutional right to the aid of counsel; that he was incapable of making his own defense adequately, and, as a consequence, was compelled to plead guilty. The court allowed the petitioner to proceed in forma pauperis, but denied the petition for failure to state a cause of action.


1. The petitioner's right to counsel was a right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution. P. 323 U. S. 473.

2. Whether the federal right of the petitioner was infringed is for this Court to determine. P. 323 U. S. 473.

3. The petition's having been denied without requiring the State to answer and without giving the petitioner an opportunity to prove his allegations, and the allegations of the petition being not inconsistent with the recitals of the accompanying certified copy of the sentence and judgment, this Court treats the allegations of the petition as true. P. 323 U. S. 474.

4. The petition sufficiently alleged a deprivation of due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Powell v. Alabama, 287 U. S. 45. P. 323 U. S. 474.

5. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it will be presumed that, when a defendant requests counsel, he is without counsel and without funds to retain counsel. P. 323 U. S. 474.

6. Although a judgment based on a plea of guilty, like other judgments, may not be set aside lightly on collateral attack, a judgment based on a plea of guilty to a capital offense by a defendant who requested but was not granted counsel, and who was incapable adequately of making his own defense, stands on a different footing. P. 323 U. S. 474.

7. The nature of the offense charged against the petitioner emphasized the need of counsel. P. 323 U. S. 474.

8. The right of the petitioner to challenge the validity of the judgment of conviction on the constitutional ground of denial of

Page 323 U. S. 472

his right to counsel cannot be defeated by his failure to take an appeal from that judgment. P. 323 U. S. 477.

9. Since the state grounds were advanced to sustain the denial of the petition are insubstantial, the denial is assumed to have been on the ground that the petition stated no cause of action based on the federal right. P. 323 U. S. 478.


Certiorari, 322 U.S. 725, to review an order denying a petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

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