Boykin v. Alabama – Case Brief Summary (U.S. Supreme Court)

In Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, (1969), the trial judge accepted the defendant's guilty plea to robbery without asking any questions to the defendant regarding his plea or allowing the defendant to address the court. The United States Supreme Court found plain error where the trial judge accepted a guilty plea without an affirmative showing on the record that the plea was voluntary and understandingly made. 395 U.S. at 242, 244.

When personal liberty is at stake in cases of imprisonment, "the utmost solicitude of which courts are capable in canvassing the matter with the accused to make sure he has a full understanding of what the plea connotes and of its consequence" is demanded. 395 U.S. at 243-44.

The Boykin Court was unwilling to assume that the accused waived his federal constitutional right against compulsory self-incrimination, the right to a jury trial, and the right to confront one's accusers in the face of a silent record. 395 U.S. at 243.

It was determined that there are certain fundamental rights that every person accused of a crime has and which may only be waived knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently. So it is that the right to a jury trial, to testify in your own behalf, to cross-examine witnesses called to testify against you, to call your own witnesses, and to be prosecuted by Grand Jury indictment are fundamental rights subject to a knowing, voluntary and intelligent waiver.

The United States Supreme Court set forth certain procedural requirements to safeguard a criminal defendant entering a guilty plea.

After Boykin, courts have been required to admonish a defendant entering a plea of guilty of three Constitutional rights:

(1) the privilege against compulsory self-incrimination;

(2) the right to trial by jury;

(3) the right to confront one's accusers.

In addition, the defendant must waive those rights knowingly and voluntarily. ( Boykin, supra, 395 U.S. 238; In re Tahl, supra, 1 Cal.3d 122; People v. Howard (1992) 1 Cal.4th 1132, 1176-1179, 824 P.2d 1315.)

The same procedures must also be employed for admission of prior convictions for sentencing purposes. ( In re Yurko (1974) 10 Cal.3d 857, 863, 112 Cal. Rptr. 513, 519 P.2d 561.)

However, the Supreme Court has never read Boykin as requiring explicit admonitions on each of the three Constitutional rights.

Instead, the court has said that the standard for determining the validity of a guilty plea "was and remains whether the plea represents a voluntary and intelligent choice among the alternative courses of action open to the defendant." ( North Carolina v. Alford (1970) 400 U.S. 25, 31, 27 L. Ed. 2d 162, 91 S. Ct. 160, citing Boykin, supra, 395 U.S. at p. 242.

The United States Supreme Court held that due process requires an adequate record illustrating that a defendant's guilty plea was "intelligent and voluntary."

The Court further held that the record must show that a defendant who pleads guilty "has a full understanding of what the plea connotes and of its consequences." Id.

The United States Court concluded that "it was error, plain and on the face of the record, for the trial judge to accept a guilty plea without an affirmative showing that the plea was intelligent and voluntary." Boykin, 395 U.S. at 242.

The Boykin Court stated that "several federal constitutional rights are involved in a waiver that takes place when a plea of guilty is entered in a state criminal trial.

First, is the privilege against compulsory self-incrimination . . .. Second, is the right to trial by jury. . .. Third, is the right to confront one's accusers. We cannot presume a waiver of these three important federal rights from a silent record." Id. at 243.

The Court then noted that there is reversible error where the record does not show that the defendant had "a full understanding of what the plea connotes and of its consequence." Id. at 244.

Finally, the Supreme Court indicated that, if a conviction was based on a plea of guilty, the record must show that the defendant understood, among other things, the permissible range of sentences that are applicable to the charge he faces.

A majority of criminal convictions are obtained after a plea of guilty, If these convictions are to be insulated from attack, the trial court is best advised to conduct an on the record examination of the defendant which should include, inter alia, . . . the permissible range of punishment.Id. at 244 n. 7.