MCNEAL V. CULVER, 365 U. S. 109 (1961)

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U.S. Supreme Court

McNeal v. Culver, 365 U.S. 109 (1961)

McNeal v. Culver

No. 52

Argued December 6, 1960

Decided January 23, 1961

365 U.S. 109


Upon an information charging "Assault to Murder in the First Degree," petitioner was tried without counsel before a jury in a Florida court, convicted of "Assault to Murder in the Second Degree," and sentenced to imprisonment for 20 years. He did not appeal, but he petitioned the State Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that he had been denied due process of law because he was an indigent, ignorant and mentally ill Negro, incapable of conducting his own defense, and that he had requested, but was denied, counsel. The Court issued a provisional writ, but, after considering respondent's return and without any hearing on petitioner's allegations, discharged the writ and remanded petitioner to custody. The record contained much to support petitioner's allegations, including abundant evidence of his ignorance and his inability to question witnesses and otherwise conduct his own defense. It also contained facts which would have suggested to counsel that petitioner might have a good insanity defense, which was not raised or considered. Moreover, the record and the relevant Florida statutes disclose that the case involved a number of highly complex legal questions beyond the comprehension of almost any layman.

Held: due process of law required that petitioner have the assistance of counsel, if the facts alleged in his petition are true, and it was incumbent on the Florida Court to grant petitioner a hearing to determine what the true facts were.

Pp. 365 U. S. 110-117.

113 So.2d 381 reversed.

Page 365 U. S. 110

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