Print this Page
Case Basics
Docket No. 
Frank G. Sain
(for the petitioner)
(for the respondent)
Facts of the Case 

The Chicago police arrested and detained Frank Townsend, a drug addict, in connection with a murder. After several hours of questioning, Townsend began going into withdrawal and asked for a doctor. A doctor gave him a medicine Townsend alleges was a “truth serum.” While under the influence of the medication, Townsend confessed to the murder. Townsend alleged that the medicine caused his confession and, therefore, was not admissible at trial. Defendants disputed most of the facts surrounding the confession. The Criminal Court of Cook County, Illinois admitted the confession at a trial by jury. The jury found Townsend guilty and sentenced him to death. The Supreme Court of Illinois affirmed the conviction.

Townsend subsequently petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The District Court denied the writ without a hearing. The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed on the ground that the District Court’s inquiry should be limited to undisputed portions of the record.


Is a Federal court required to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine issues of fact in order to rule on the writ of habeas corpus?

Decision: 5 votes for Townsend, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision:

Yes, when the facts are in dispute and the petitioner did not receive a full and fair evidentiary hearing in state court. In a 5-4 decision, Justice Earl Warren wrote for the majority. At the state level, several crucial facts, such as whether or not the medicine given to Townsend was a “truth serum,” were not determined. The record did not provide sufficient information to make an accurate determination. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded to the District Court for an evidentiary hearing. The Supreme Court was careful to note that it did not rule on the truth of the allegations in the petition for writ of habeas corpus. Justice Potter Stewart wrote a dissent, stating that the District Court had made sufficient factual determinations and a new hearing was unnecessary. Justice Tom C. Clark, Justice John M. Harlan, and Justice Byron R. White joined in the dissent.

Cite this Page
TOWNSEND v. SAIN. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 29 July 2015. <>.
TOWNSEND v. SAIN, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited July 29, 2015).
"TOWNSEND v. SAIN," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed July 29, 2015,