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United States v. Maroney

December 30, 1964; As Amended January 15, 1965.


Author: Smith

Before BIGGS, Chief Judge, and FORMAN and SMITH, Circuit Judges.

WILLIAM F. SMITH, Circuit Judge.

This appeal is from the dismissal of a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed under § 2242 of Title 28 U.S.C. The appellant, in custody pursuant to a judgment of the Court of Quarter Sessions of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, sought his release on the ground that his conviction rested on illegally seized evidence which had been improperly admitted at his trial in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The court below held no evidentiary hearing but adopted as its own the facts as found by the said Court of Quarter Sessions and the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. However, since there was no genuine issue as to any of the material facts as found by the State courts, such a hearing was not required. Townsend v. Sain, 372 U.S. 293, 318, 319, 83 S. Ct. 745, 9 L. Ed. 2d 770 (1963). We here adopt the same facts as the basis for our decision as to the reasonableness of the challenged search and seizure.

The court below made no determination as to the legality of the search and seizure in question but predicated the dismissal of the petition solely on the ground "that the exclusionary rule of Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 655 [81 S. Ct. 1684, 6 L. Ed. 2d 1081] (1961)" was not retroactively applicable.This view is not in accord with the decision of this Court in United States ex rel. Mancini v. Rundle, Superintendent, State Correctional Institution, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 3 Cir., 337 F.2d 268 (October 1964). We held in that case that where, as in the instant case, the judgment of conviction had not become final prior to Mapp v. Ohio, the exclusionary rule was applicable. This was likewise the holding of this Court in United States ex rel. Campbell v. Rundle, 3 Cir., 327 F.2d 153, 163, 164 (January 27, 1964). The decision of the court below was therefore erroneous.

Material Facts

The events which ultimately led to the arrest of the appellant, and the subsequent search of a room which he occupied, began in Clairton, Pennsylvania, on March 30, 1961, when the local police apprehended one Williams, who, upon search of his person was found in possession of a small quantity of heroin. When interrogated at police headquarters Williams informed the arresting officers that he had purchased the heroin from the appellant earlier in the day while in Rankin, Pennsylvania. The local police officers then communicated with the Allegheny County detectives and an agent of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. At approximately three o'clock in the afternoon of the following day Williams, while in custody and at the instigation of the police, telephoned the appellant and made arrangements to purchase "two pieces" (heroin), delivery of which was to be made on a street in Rankin. At approximately seven o'clock in the evening the appellant was arrested as he approached the designated meeting place. Upon the search of his person there were no narcotics found.

After his arrest the appellant was brought to police headquarters at Clairton, where he was interrogated for almost three hours, at times in the presence of Williams. Thereafter, while the appellant remained in custody in the Clairton Police Headquarters, several of the arresting officers returned to Rankin, where they proceeded to a house at 205 Miller Street. There, they forcibly gained entrance to a room which had been rented by the appellant several days earlier. They searched the room and found a locked box, the key to which they had taken from the person of the appellant. Therein they found a quantity of heroin and other incriminating evidence, which were seized. The appellee concedes that the described search was made without a warrant and in the absence of the appellant.

Criminal Proceedings

The usual criminal proceedings were initiated and in November of 1961, the appellant was tried and convicted on two bills of indictment, one charging the possession of heroin in violation of § 854 of Title 35 P.S.,*fn1 and the other charging the possession and sale of heroin in violation of the same section. (The cited statute was repealed as of January 2, 1962). The incriminating evidence obtained upon search of the appellant's room was offered and received at the trial. Notwithstanding the rule of admissibility which then prevailed under the law of Pennsylvania, appellant's counsel moved to exclude the said evidence on the ground that its seizure had resulted from an illegal search. The motion was denied.

After the appellant's conviction and before imposition of sentence his counsel promptly filed motions for a new trial and in arrest of judgment. However, it appears from the memorandum filed in support of the motions that appellant's counsel challenged as error the admission of certain testimony offered by the prosecution but failed to make any reference to the alleged illegal search and seizure. This failure is understandable because under the law of Pennsylvania, as it stood at the time of the appellant's trial and conviction, evidence obtained as the result of an illegal search was admissible. Commonwealth v. Chaitt, 380 Pa. 532, 112 A.2d 379, 381, 382 (1955); Commonwealth v. Dabbierio, 290 Pa. 174, 138 A. 679, 681 (1927). See also United States ex rel. Campbell v. Rundle, supra, 327 F.2d 160. Any motion based upon the alleged erroneous admission of illegally seized evidence would have been futile under the circumstances.

While the motions were pending the Supreme Court, on June 19, 1961, decided Mapp v. Ohio, supra. A month later the trial judge filed an order, accompanied by a written opinion, denying the motions. The opinion contained no reference to the alleged illegal search and seizure. On August 14, counsel for the appellant filed a "Renewal" of his earlier motions. Therein he challenged the verdicts on the ground that they were "against the law," and cited in support thereof Mapp v. Ohio. The renewal motion, although inartistically drawn, was sufficient to acquaint the trial court with the constitutional question*fn1a The said motion was denied without opinion on August 18, and the appellant was thereupon sentenced to concurrent terms of imprisonment of three to six years. It seems reasonable to assume that the trial court considered the constitutional question but declined the opportunity to pass on it.

On appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, the validity of the judgment of conviction was challenged on the ground that it rested on illegally obtained evidence which should have been excluded at the trial on the appellant's motion. Commonwealth v. Clark, 198 Pa.Super. 64, 181 A.2d 859.The Court failed to decide the issue raised by the challenge and predicated its affirmance of the judgment on a procedural ground. It held at page 860 of 181 A.2d: "Matters not raised by proper post-conviction motions or considered in the court below cannot be invoked on appeal in this Commonwealth even though they involve constitutional questions." It held further that under the circumstances the "application of Mapp v. Ohio" was not involved.

Notwithstanding these holdings, the Superior Court went on to state, 181 A.2d at page 861:

"Moreover, in any event, it would seem that the trial court could properly rely on the law at the time of trial and conviction as announced in Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U.S. 25, 69 S. Ct. 1359, 93 L. Ed. 1782, on the question of illegally obtained evidence in state courts prior to Mapp v. Ohio, supra, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S. Ct. 1684, 6 L. ...

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