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United States v. Hendrickson

decided: October 15, 1969.


Biggs, Kalodner and Freedman, Circuit Judges.

Author: Freedman


FREEDMAN, Circuit Judge.

Defendant Hendrickson appeals from a judgment of sentence in the District Court of New Jersey following a jury's verdict of guilty of mail fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1341) and conspiracy to commit mail fraud (18 U.S.C. § 371).


Defendant claims that his constitutional rights to counsel under the Sixth Amendment and to due process under the Fifth Amendment were violated because counsel was not assigned to him at the time of his arraignment before the district judge on February 5, 1965.

It is true that Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45, 69, 53 S. Ct. 55, 77 L. Ed. 158 (1932), quoted in Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 463, 58 S. Ct. 1019, 82 L. Ed. 1461 (1938) speaks of the accused's need of the guiding hand of counsel "at every step" in the proceedings, and Rule 44 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, as it existed at the time of defendant's arraignment, provided that a defendant is entitled to have counsel to represent him "at every stage" of the proceeding.*fn1 We agree, however, with the view expressed by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in McGill v. United States, 121 U.S.App.D.C. 179, 348 F.2d 791, 793 (1965) that "the general language in Johnson v. Zerbst and Rule 44 must be read in the light of their fundamental purpose to provide the guiding hand of counsel at every step where an accused who is without counsel may be prejudiced. * * * The exaltation of abstraction above reality should not be condoned for the purpose of denying constitutional rights and should not be indulged for the purpose of creating constitutional rights."*fn2

Defendant suffered no prejudice at his arraignment; he pleaded not guilty, his bail was continued and he gave no evidence at the arraignment which later was used against him. In view of this lack of prejudice, we do not believe he suffered a deprivation of his constitutional rights.

Moreover, it is clear from the discussion between the district judge and defendant at the arraignment that defendant intended to retain counsel of his own choosing. As a result, a plea of not guilty was entered on defendant's behalf and nothing further was done pending his retention of counsel. When it became known to the court that defendant desired court-appointed counsel, the court inquired into his indigency, and being satisfied thereof appointed counsel for him on May 10, 1968. His case was not brought to trial until approximately five months later. It is clear, therefore, that defendant suffered no constitutional deprivation of due process or of the right to counsel.


Defendant also claims that the evidence was insufficient to establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This claim requires a brief summary of the evidence.

The main features of the government's case were presented by one Taylor, who was a party to the scheme, originating in Louisville, Kentucky, in which the government alleged the defendant was involved. Taylor testified that he was sent by one McKinney, who was the leader of the group, to Newark where he opened checking accounts at a number of banking institutions in the area. He made small initial deposits, under fictitious names and then advised McKinney of the information regarding the accounts he had opened and shipped him blank checks on the accounts. The testimony of other witnesses showed that these blank checks were filled out in Louisville, endorsed, and deposited in savings accounts opened in the Newark area by the defendant under fictitious names. Withdrawals were then made from the savings accounts before the checks deposited were dishonored by the banks on which they were drawn.

Taylor identified a letter which he said the defendant had written when they were both in a prison cell in Louisville with another man named Blacketer. Taylor testified that he saw the defendant write and sign the letter and that he himself and Blacketer had each written and signed a notation on it. Blacketer, called as a witness by the government, identified his own notation and signature on the letter. A Louisville postal inspector, to whom the letter was written, identified it as having come from the defendant. This letter was used as the standard with which an examiner of questioned documents for the postal inspection service compared the handwriting on the various checks and other instruments used in the scheme to defraud the institutions and savings banks. He gave it as his opinion that the handwriting on these checks and other instruments was the same as that in the body of the letter and the signature to it.

The evidence clearly was adequate to support the verdict, and defendant's complaint of its insufficiency is unjustified. Indeed, the trial judge carefully explained to the jury the manner in which they should weigh the testimony of Taylor, the admitted accomplice, and also explained to them fully the effect of the testimony of the handwriting expert, their function in ...

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