Petitioner, hereinafter referred to as defendant, brought a writ of error coram nobis in the Nebraska District Court to set aside his robbery conviction, based on his guilty plea, on the ground that he did not intelligently waive his right to counsel at his arraignment. Defendant alleged a denial of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment and of his constitutional and statutory right to counsel under the law of Nebraska. Proof showed that the trial court advised defendant that he was "entitled to be represented by counsel," and that defendant misunderstood this to mean he could have a lawyer only if he paid for one. The writ was denied, and an appeal was taken to the Supreme Court of Nebraska. Held: The trial court's statement sufficiently informed him of his constitutional rights. Johnson v. State, 169 Neb. 783, 100 N.W.2d 844 (1960). The court did not mention other facts appearing in the record. The defendant was seventeen; he had dropped out of school in the ninth grade for medical reasons; he was married and father of a child; he had had no previous experience with the law; and his parents also misunderstood the court for his father was hard of hearing and his mother answered the court's question about an attorney by saying, "We can't afford it." The importance of these facts are brought out in discussing two issues raised by this case: Are Nebraska judges under any duty to inform indigent defendants of their right to counsel at state expense? Is this defendant sufficiently "indigent" to qualify for counsel at state expense?
Richard E. Gee,
Duty to Advise Indigent of Right to Counsel at State Expense,
40 Neb. L. Rev. 161
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