BUTE V. ILLINOIS, 333 U. S. 640 (1948)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Bute v. Illinois, 333 U.S. 640 (1948)

Bute v. Illinois

No. 398

Argued February 12, 1948

Decided April 19, 1948

333 U.S. 640


1. Petitioner, a 57-year-old man, pleaded guilty in a state court to two indictments for the noncapital offense of "taking indecent liberties with children," and was sentenced to prison for one to 20 years for each offense. The indictments were in simple language, and easy to understand, and there was no claim that petitioner failed to understand them or that he was incapable of intelligently and competently pleading guilty. The records showed that petitioner appeared "in his own proper person" and that, before accepting his pleas of guilty, the court explained the consequences and penalties; but the records were silent on the subject of counsel for his defense.


(a) In the circumstances of this case, such silence in the records as to counsel for the defense does not suffice to invalidate the sentences under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 333 U. S. 644, 333 U. S. 670-677.

(b) In the absence of any showing beyond that in the records in this case, the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment did not require the state court to inquire as to petitioner's desire to be represented by counsel, his ability to procure counsel, or his desire to have counsel assigned to him; nor did it require the state court to offer or assign counsel to him. Pp. 333 U. S. 644, 333 U. S. 670-677.

2. The due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not require the several states to conform the procedure of their state criminal trials to the precise procedure of the federal courts, even to the extent that the procedure of the federal courts is prescribed by the Federal Constitution or Bill of Rights. Pp. 333 U. S. 649, 333 U. S. 656.

Page 333 U. S. 641

3. It has reference, rather, to a standard of process that may cover many varieties of processes that are expressive of differing combinations of historical or modern, local, or other juridical standards, provided they do not conflict with the "fundamental principles of liberty and justice which lie at the base of all our civil and political situations." P. 333 U. S. 649.

4. It leaves room for much of the freedom which, under the Constitution and in accordance with its purposes, was originally reserved to the states for their exercise of their own police powers and for their control over the procedure to be followed in criminal trials in their respective courts in the light of their respective histories and needs. Pp. 333 U. S. 649-653, 333 U. S. 663, 333 U. S. 675.

5. It is descriptive of a broad regulatory power over each state and of of a major transfer by the states to the United States of the primary and preexisting power of the states over court procedures in state criminal cases. P. 333 U. S. 653.

6. Because the Constitution, during nearly 80 formative years, permitted each state to establish, maintain, and accustom its people to its own forms of "due process of law," a substantial presumption arises in favor of, rather than against, the lawfulness of those procedures, and in favor of their right to continued recognition by the Federal Government as "due process of law." P. 333 U. S. 653.

7. While such a presumption does not arise in favor of any practice against which the Fourteenth Amendment was particularly directed, there is no reason to feel that it was particularly directed against the practice involved in this case. Pp. 333 U. S. 653-654.

8. A procedure followed by a state in criminal trials should not be held to violate the standard of permissible process of law broadly recognized by the Fourteenth Amendment unless it violates "the very essence of a scheme of ordered liberty" and its continuance would "violate a principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental.'" P. 333 U. S. 659.

9. Rule 44 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, pertaining to the assignment of counsel to defendants in criminal cases in federal courts, cannot be regarded as defining, even by analogy, the minimum requirement of due process for the states under the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 333 U. S. 662-663.

10. The Fourteenth Amendment does not authorize this Court to require all states to enforce in substance either Rule 44 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure or § 203 of the proposed Code of Criminal Procedure recommended by the American Law Institute. P. 333 U. S. 665.

Page 333 U. S. 642

11. It is not the province of this Court to prescribe which procedure it considers preferable among many permissible procedures which could be followed by a state court in connection with counsel for the defense of a party accused of a state crime. P. 333 U. S. 670.

12. It is the province of this Court to decide whether the practice followed by a state court in a particular case, although admittedly in conformity with state law, was so clearly at variance with the procedure constituting "due process of law" under the Fourteenth Amendment that the judgments must be completely invalidated. P. 333 U. S. 670.

13. The common law record of a criminal trial in a state court for a noncapital offense is not to be considered unreliable solely because it is almost exactly in the language of the state statute prescribing the procedure in such cases. P. 333 U. S. 670.

14. In passing upon claims of denial of due process of law contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment in state criminal trials, doubts should be resolved in favor of the integrity, competence, and proper performance of their official duties by the judge and the state's attorney lawfully chosen to discharge serious public responsibilities under their oaths of office. Pp. 333 U. S. 671-672.

15. If any presumption is to be indulged as a result of silence regarding counsel for the defense in the record of a state criminal trial for a noncapital offense, it should be presumed that the state court constitutionally discharged, rather than unconstitutionally disregarded, its state and federal duties to the defendant, including those relating to his right, if any, to the assistance of counsel. P. 333 U. S. 672.

16. Affirmance of the sentences by the state supreme court conclusively established their compliance with state law. P. 333 U. S. 668.

17. While such a finding of compliance with state law is not necessarily sufficient to satisfy the requirements of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment, it is helpful, in measuring compliance with the latter, to know exactly what were the requirements of state law. Pp. 333 U. S. 668-670.

18. In view of the requirements of the state statutes (quoted in the opinion at pp. 333 U. S. 668-670), the affirmance of the sentences by the state supreme court, and the absence of findings to the contrary, the silence of the records is adequate ground for the minimum conclusion that petitioner did not request counsel and did not state under oath that he was "unable to procure counsel." Pp. 333 U. S. 672-673.

19. In the absence of any request by petitioner for counsel, and in the absence of any statement by him that he was unable to procure counsel, the court did not violate the requirements of due process

Page 333 U. S. 643

of law under the Fourteenth Amendment by the procedure which it followed, and which accorded with the procedure approved by the state for noncapital cases such as these. Pp. 333 U. S. 673-674.

20. It is not necessary to consider whether petitioner, by his plea of guilty or otherwise, affirmatively waived any right to counsel, for no constitutional right to the assistance of counsel had arisen in his favor. P. 333 U. S. 673.

21. Since the offenses with which petitioner was charged were of a noncapital nature, the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, in and of itself, did not require the state trial court, in the circumstances of these cases to initiate an inquiry into his desire to be represented by counsel or into his ability to obtain counsel, nor, in the event of his inability to obtain counsel, did it require the trial court to assign counsel to conduct his defense -- though it would have been required both by the state statute and the Fourteenth Amendment to take some such steps if he had been charged with a capital offense. P. 333 U. S. 674.

396 Ill. 588, 72 N.E.2d 813, affirmed.

The Supreme Court of Illinois affirmed petitioner's convictions under two indictments for the noncapital offense of "taking indecent liberties with children." 396 Ill. 588, 72 N.E.2d 813. This Court granted certiorari. 332 U.S. 756. Affirmed, p. 333 U. S. 677.

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