MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.
October 30, 1936, the petitioner was indicted in the County Court of Erie County, New York, on a charge of
The punishments provided for this offense and for larceny are substantially the same. Both may, according to circumstances, range up to ten years at hard labor.
Although discharged from probation December 1, 1938, petitioner on December 27, 1945, made a motion in the nature of coram nobis in the Erie County Court asking that court to vacate and set aside its former conviction of petitioner, permit withdrawal of the plea of guilty, and for leave to plead de novo. There was a special reason why petitioner wished to vacate this judgment long after the probationary restraints of the sentence had been lifted. In the meantime he had pleaded guilty in the Chautauqua County Court, New York, to the crime of robbery second degree under an indictment charging him with robbery first degree. In accordance with the requirements of the
The grounds of the motion in the nature of coram nobis were that the Erie County Court had exceeded its power in accepting his plea of guilty to the offense of attempted grand larceny second degree under the indictment which charged him with the offense of receiving, concealing, and withholding property knowing it to have been stolen. He alleged that judgment of conviction in a case initiated by an indictment which did not include the charge to which he had pleaded guilty denied him his right under Art. 1, § 6 of the New York Constitution to be prosecuted for an infamous crime only on indictment of a grand jury,
It is again contended here that acceptance of petitioner's plea of guilty to attempted grand larceny second degree under an indictment which charged that he had bought, received, concealed, and withheld stolen property deprived him of his right under the New York Constitution to be prosecuted for an infamous crime only on a grand jury indictment and that consequently the Erie County judgment of conviction is a nullity. But this contention
Petitioner next argues that the State has failed to supply him an available remedy to attack the judgment against him and that such a failure denies him due process of law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. See Mooney v. Holohan, 294 U.S. 103, 113. But this contention falls with its premise. Petitioner, within the periods prescribed by New York statutes, could have challenged any alleged errors of state law either by filing a motion to withdraw his plea of guilty, or a motion in arrest of judgment, or by taking a direct appeal from the original judgment.
Petitioner further challenges the judgment as a denial of due process upon the ground that the indictment charged him with one offense and that the judgment was based on a plea of guilty to an entirely separate offense.
There is close kinship between the offense of larceny and that of receiving stolen property knowing that it was stolen. When related to the same stolen goods, as here, the two crimes certainly may fairly be said to be "connected with the same transaction" as the New York Court of Appeals noted in the Wachowicz case. 293 N.Y. at 367, 57 N.E.2d at 56. A person commits larceny under New York law if he "unlawfully obtains or appropriates" an article, N.Y. Penal Law § 1294; he violates the receiving of stolen property statute if he "in any way . . . conceals, withholds, or aids in concealing or withholding . . . property, knowing the same to have been stolen, or appropriated wrongfully in such a manner as to constitute
It would be exaltation of technical precision to an unwarranted degree to say that the indictment here did not inform petitioner that he was charged with substantial elements of the crime of larceny thereby enabling him, as a means of cutting his sentence in half, to agree to plead guilty to an attempted larceny. Procedural requirements are essential constitutional safeguards in our system of criminal law. These safeguards should constantly and vigilantly be observed to afford those accused of crime every fair opportunity to defend themselves. This petitioner had such opportunity. Months after his first appearance in court he came back and pleaded guilty to an attempt wrongfully to "withhold" the very property of another which the indictment had originally charged him with wrongfully "withholding."
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS dissents.
MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER, concurring.
The New York Constitution requires that prosecution for an "infamous crime" be upon indictment by grand jury. The New York Court of Appeals has held that this constitutional requirement does not nullify the acceptance by a trial court of a plea of guilty to the offense of attempted grand larceny, second degree, upon an indictment for knowingly receiving stolen goods. Since, so far as the United States Constitution is concerned, the States may dispense with accusations by grand juries, it is for New York and not for us to decide when the procedural requirements of New York law not touching those fundamental safeguards which the United States Constitution protects, are satisfied. What is here challenged is New York's determination that the knowing receipt of stolen goods is sufficiently related to larceny so as to permit acceptance of a plea of guilty of the latter on the assumption that an indictment for one affords adequate notice of the other. Surely this does not rise to the dignity of a substantial federal question. In the early days of the Fourteenth Amendment, this Court deemed it appropriate to remind that that Amendment had not made this Court an appellate tribunal to supervise the administration of the criminal law of the States. It is not irrelevant to recall this admonition.