The opinion of the court was delivered by: POLLACK
This proceeding seeks to set aside petitioner's conviction in the state courts on September 20, 1962 on a plea of guilty to robbery in the first degree which resulted in a sentence of ten to twenty years in prison.
A petition for a writ of habeas corpus was denied by this Court on May 2, 1968 for insufficiency. An appeal was taken and on application of the petitioner showing the procurement of new proof, the Court of Appeals remanded the matter to this Court for reconsideration and also to consider whether to hold an evidentiary hearing.
For the reasons given below, the petition is dismissed and the petitioner is remitted to the state courts for the hearing which he seeks. The state authorities have stipulated herein that they are prepared to cooperate and consent to holding a prompt coram nobis hearing on petitioner's charges based on his new evidence.
The background hereof is as follows.
Contending that his plea of guilty to robbery in the first degree was induced by judicial coercion in the County Court for the County of Dutchess, State of New York, the petitioner since 1963 has sought release from Auburn State Prison in a succession of coram nobis and habeas corpus pro se applications in the state and federal courts culminating in the petition for a writ of habeas corpus in this Court in 1968.
On May 2, 1968 this Court, in opinion, also denied a writ of habeas corpus, with leave, however, to reapply herein should the petitioner obtain and submit evidentiary corroborative proof in the form of an affidavit from the intermediary, a Rabbi, said to have carried the coercive message to the petitioner from the trial Judge.
On May 14, 1968 requests for a certificate of probable cause and for allowance of an appeal in forma pauperis were denied by this Court. Thereafter the Court of Appeals granted a certificate of probable cause. The petitioner then took an appeal and during the pendency thereof the petitioner was able to procure a seemingly corroborative evidentiary affidavit from the Rabbi.
Meanwhile, on July 28, 1968, the petitioner submitted a pro se coram nobis application to the Dutchess County Court asking for a hearing on his claim. His application was denied on September 25, 1968 on the asserted ground that coram nobis relief is not available in the state courts unless the claimed coercion were practiced upon a defendant either by the Court or by the District Attorney, citing People v. Tomaselli, 7 N.Y.2d 350, 197 N.Y.S.2d 697, 165 N.E.2d 551 (1960). The County Court also ruled that "the petitioner's statement that he was coerced by a party other than the District Attorney or the Court is not supported by proper papers upon this motion."
The information before the County Court on the July 28, 1968 coram nobis application concerning the Rabbi's role was contained in two letters from the Rabbi approximately six years old in which there were equivocal statements on the subject of the alleged coercion. The absence of proper evidentiary proof on that application is demonstrated by the opposing affidavit of the Assistant District Attorney, reading as following:
"Moreover, the petitioner's statement that he was coerced by Rabbi Ruderman is entirely without support or corroboration. He attaches to the moving papers letters which he terms are 'true copies' of letters dated December 7, 1962 and January 31, 1963, from Rabbi Ruderman. The letters, even if they are true copies (for purposes here, however, the People make no such concession) do not support any argument of coercion. Where the duress is said to derive from persons other than the Court or District Attorney, nothing less than a supporting affidavit is necessary as in the case of a promise allegedly made by a defendant's own attorney (People v. Scott, 10 N.Y.2d 380, 382 [223 N.Y.S.2d 472, 179 N.E.2d 486], People v. Warren, 25 A.D.2d 676 [268 N.Y.S.2d 576], People v. Huarneck, 22 A.D.2d 651 [252 N.Y.S.2d 1004]). In the absence of any such corroborating affidavit, no issue requiring a hearing is presented."
It appears that, five days before the County Court Judge denied the petition for coram nobis relief, the petitioner had written to the Assistant District Attorney informing him that the Rabbi's affidavit had finally been secured. Mention thereof was made by the Assistant District Attorney to the Judge by way of a letter dated the day of the decision and the petitioner was informed that his letter had been submitted to the Court so that it might be treated as a reply to the opposition to coram nobis. There is nothing to indicate that the letter actually reached the County Judge or that he was aware of the Rabbi's affidavit or that he had considered either before he handed down his decision denying coram nobis. Suffice it to say that the Rabbi's affidavit was not recited in the order specifying the papers before the County Court when it made the decision pointing out that the allegation of coercion was not supported by proper papers.
During the pendency of these state court proceedings, the petitioner also reapplied to this Court for a reconsideration of its denial of the writ of habeas corpus. This reapplication was rejected on the ground that this Court lacked jurisdiction during the pendency of an appeal from its order. Then, on motion by the petitioner to the Court of Appeals, reciting the existence of new proof, that Court remanded the proceeding to the District Court for reconsideration of the entire matter including the question of whether to hold an evidentiary hearing.
Consideration of all of the facts and circumstances herein persuades this Court that the petitioner should in the first instance present his federal claim to the state courts for hearing and adjudication. The state courts should be given "the first chance to review their alleged errors so long as they have not authoritatively shown that no further relief ...