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A judgment cannot be lightly set aside by collateral attack, even on habeas corpus. When collaterally attacked, the judgment of a court carries with it a presumption of regularity. Where a defendant, without counsel, acquiesces in a trial resulting in his conviction and later seeks release by the extraordinary remedy of habeas corpus, the burden of proof rests upon him to establish that he did not competently and intelligently waive his constitutional right to assistance of counsel. If in a habeas corpus hearing, he does meet this burden and convinces the court by a preponderance of evidence that he neither had counsel nor properly waived his constitutional right to counsel, it is the duty of the court to grant the writ.
Petitioner, while imprisoned in federal penitentiary, was denied habeas corpus by the trial court. Later, the trial court granted petitioner a second hearing, prompted by the peculiar circumstances surrounding the case. Upon consideration of the second petition, the trial court found that it did not substantially differ from the first and therefore denied the petition. In the writ, petitioner contended that he was deprived of his constitutional right under U.S. Const. amend. VI to assistance of counsel. The trial court held that proceedings depriving petitioner of his constitutional right were not sufficient to make the trial void in a habeas corpus proceeding, but could be addressed on appeal. The appellate court affirmed and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.
Did the trial court err in denying petitioner’s habeas corpus petition?
The Court reversed the trial court's decision when the Court found that petitioner was convicted without assistance of counsel, and therefore remanded the issue to the trial court to determine whether petitioner had voluntarily waived that right. If he had, then he wasn't entitled to habeas corpus relief, but if he had not, then the trial court was without jurisdiction to proceed to judgment and convict petitioner.