HENDERSON V. MORGAN, 426 U. S. 637 (1976)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Henderson v. Morgan, 426 U.S. 637 (1976)

Henderson v. Morgan

No. 74-1529

Argued February 24, 1976

Decided June 17, 1976

426 U.S. 637


Respondent was indicated for first-degree murder, but, by agreement with the prosecution and on counsel's advice, respondent pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced. Subsequently, after exhausting his state remedies in an unsuccessful attempt to have his conviction vacated on the ground that his guilty plea was involuntary, respondent filed a habeas corpus petition in Federal District Court, alleging that his guilty plea was involuntary because, inter alia, he was not aware that intent to cause death was an element of second-degree murder. The District Court ultimately heard the testimony of several witnesses, including respondent and his defense counsel in the original prosecution; and the transcript of the relevant state court proceedings and certain psychological evaluations of respondent, who was substantially below average intelligence, were made part of the record. On the basis of the evidence thus developed, the District Court found that respondent had not been advised by counsel or the state court that an intent to cause death was an essential element of second-degree murder, and, based on this finding, held that the guilty plea was involuntary, and had to be set aside. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Since respondent did not receive adequate notice of the offense to which he pleaded guilty, his plea was involuntary, and the judgment of conviction was entered without due process of law. The plea could not be voluntary in the sense that it constituted an intelligent admission that he committed the offense unless respondent received "real notice of the true nature of the charge against him, the first and most universally recognized requirement of due process." Smith v. O'Grady, 312 U. S. 329, 312 U. S. 334. Where the record discloses that defense counsel did not purport to stipulate that respondent had the requisite intent or explain to him that his plea would be admission of that fact, and he made no factual statement or admission necessarily implying that he had such intent, it is impossible

Page 426 U. S. 638

to conclude that his plea to the unexplained charge of second-degree murder was voluntary. Pp. 426 U. S. 644-647.

516 F.2d 897, affirmed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which STEWART, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined, post, p. 426 U. S. 647. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J.,joined, post, p. 426 U. S. 652.

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