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GRIFFITH v. RHAY

September 30, 1959

Matter of the Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus of Henry M. GRIFFITH, Petitioner,
v.
B. J. RHAY, as Superintendent of Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla, Washington, Respondent



The opinion of the court was delivered by: POWELL

Petition for a writ of habeas corpus has been filed by Henry M. Griffith, a prisoner under sentence of death, confined within this district in the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla County, Washington. He was convicted of murder in the first degree in the County of Adams, State of Washington, by a jury verdict rendered on March 6, 1957.

On appeal to the Supreme Court of the State of Washington, judgment of conviction was affirmed on August 7, 1958. *fn1" All of the judges sitting concurred in the opinion. A petition for rehearing was denied on October 7, 1958.

 Thereafter, the petitoner here filed a petition with the Superior Court of the State of Washington for Adams County, requesting review and claiming that he had been denied due process of law. The petition was denied. Subsequent thereto, and on May 25, 1959, the petitioner here filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Supreme Court of the State of Washington. The petition was denied without hearing by the Supreme Court on the same date.

 Petition for certiorari was filed in the United States Supreme Court. Certiorari was denied on June 1, 1959. *fn2"

 Thereafter, and on July 16, 1959, the petitioner here filed a second petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Supreme Court of the State of Washington. The petition was denied on the same date.

 Following the filing of the petition for writ of habeas corpus in this court, orders staying the execution of the petitioner were entered and the matter has now been submitted to this court for consideration upon the complete record of the trial, and the appeal to the Supreme Court of the State of Washington.

 Petitioner has been authorized to proceed here in forma pauperis.

 The court appointed R. Max Etter, a capable attorney of the Spokane Bar and former assistant attorney general of the state, to present the petition and argument on behalf of the petitioner in this court.

 Counsel for the respondent moved to dismiss the petition in part, claiming that the petitioner failed to exhaust his remedies in the state courts. An examination of the petition for writ of habeas corpus filed in the Supreme Court of the State of Washington, and a comparison of that petition with the one filed in this court, disclose that all of the grounds for relief stated here were raised in the prior petition. Petitioner has therefore exhausted his remedies in the state courts as required by 28 U.S.C. § 2254, and is entitled to maintain his petition here. The motion to dismiss is accordingly denied.

 This court is required to determine the federal question presented here. The petition for writ of habeas corpus in this court is not a substitute for appeal. *fn3"

 Petitioner contends that his constitutional rights were violated at the trial. The trial court admitted in evidence testimony concerning an oral statement, and also admitted an exhibit which was a statement signed by petitioner in which were admissions concerning his connection with the crime charged. He claims that the circumstances under which the statements were taken were such as to require their exclusion as being involuntary and coerced. He further contends that after the charge was filed against him he was not accorded rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the federal constitution, in that he was not immediately taken before a magistrate and was not given the benefit of counsel appointed by the court.

 While the determination of the state court is not binding here, it is not to be disregarded. It is for this court to determine whether the petitioner has been accorded due process, or whether he has been denied rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. *fn4" In the performance of that task there must be 'an alert deference to the judgment of the state court * * *'. *fn5"

 The admitted facts are these: The petitioner was 19 years old when he was arrested. He had received little formal education. His childhood was unhappy and insecure. His stay in foster homes was necessary because his father abandoned the family and his mother suffered a nervous breakdown, requiring her hospitalization. He was in the army and went AWOL after boot training. He was sent to the state reformatory for forgery, and was on parole from that institution when he was arrested and charged with the crime of which he now stands convicted. The emotional instability of petitioner is shown by the testimony of his witnesses at the trial.

 On October 6, 1956, at 11:30 p.m., petitioner was lying on a street in Spokane, Washington, suffering from a serious, self-inflicted, abdominal, gunshot wound. Police had orders to pick him up for questioning about the death of an oil dealer near Lind, Washington. The deputy sheriffs who found him proceeded to question him there and in the ambulance enroute to the hospital. Emergency surgery was performed. Repeated blood transfusions were given. From the record it appears the petitioner received medical and hospital care that left nothing ...


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