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United States v. Walters

decided: February 5, 1975.


Appeal from the Order of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. (D.C. Civil No. 73-1034).

Biggs, Adams and Garth, Circuit Judges.

Author: Biggs


BIGGS, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from the district court's dismissal without a hearing of the relator-appellant's, Geisler's, application for habeas corpus. The district court ruled that Geisler had failed to exhaust his state remedies. The instant appeal followed. Its disposition requires our examination of the complicated history of Geisler's various motions and petitions and a determination of whether he has either exhausted his state remedies or been victimized by circumstances rendering those remedies ineffective. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b).


Geisler was tried by a jury on October 19, 1962 for armed robbery and violation of the Uniform Firearms Act.*fn1 His trial was conducted by Judge Robert Morris of the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas. Geisler was found guilty on both counts, and his counsel filed a motion for a new trial but subsequently withdrew it. On February 15, 1963, Geisler was sentenced to a term of 7 1/2 to 15 years. At a hearing on March 3, 1963, his counsel requested leave to argue the original motion for a new trial. Leave was denied.

In 1964, Geisler filed a petition for habeas corpus in the state court.*fn2 Judge Morris dismissed that petition without a hearing on October 6, 1964 because it raised issues which he deemed were not properly before him in a habeas corpus proceeding. On appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed per curiam. Commonwealth ex rel. Geisler v. Maroney, 205 Pa. Super. 739, 209 A.2d 437 (1965). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied allocatur on August 30, 1965.

Geisler then filed a pro se petition pursuant to the Pennsylvania Post Conviction Hearing Act, 19 P.S. § 1180-1 et seq., on October 23, 1967.*fn3 On March 7, 1968 Judge Morris conducted a hearing on the petition, having appointed the Allegheny County Public Defender as counsel for Geisler. The issue was stated to be whether Geisler had been deprived of his right to appeal. On March 4, 1969, Judge Morris filed an opinion and order dismissing the PCHA petition but permitting Geisler to file a motion for a new trial nunc pro tunc. The Public Defender again served as counsel for Geisler. On June 27, 1969, Geisler filed pro se a motion for a new trial, as follows: (1) he was denied effective assistance of counsel; (2) the identification was so impermissibly suggestive as to be constitutionally infirm; (3) the trial court erred in permitting introduction into evidence of the appellant's prior record of convictions under the Uniform Firearms Act; (4) the admission of prejudicial and unrelated evidence was improper; (5) his arrest was without probable cause; (6) the Assistant District Attorney engaged in prosecutorial misconduct; (7) the trial judge's charge to the jury denied Geisler a fair trial; and (8) the jury's double verdict resulted in double jeopardy to the appellant.

On December 17, 1969, six months after the motion for new trial was filed, a court consisting of Judge Morris and Judge Samuel J. Feigus heard oral argument on the motion and took it under advisement. On April 27, 1970, ten months after Geisler filed his motion of June 27, 1969 for a new trial, and again on July 16, 1970, thirteen months after the filing of his motion for a new trial on June 27, 1969, Geisler filed petitions for disposition of his motion for a new trial. These petitions were identical, the second having been filed because the first did not reach the clerk's office. In substance, they were a procedural request that Judge Morris act immediately on the motion for a new trial and not a substantive enumeration of Geisler's claims. While appellant specifically elaborated upon several contentions, including denial of effective assistance of counsel and prejudice arising from introduction into evidence of appellant's prior record, the petition also referred to appellant's motion for a new trial and the oral argument on that motion.

On September 11, 1970, fifteen months after Geisler had filed his motion for a new trial, Judge Morris filed the following opinion and order:

"This matter is before the Court on a Petition which the Defendant describes as a 'Petition for Disposition and Remedy as a Matter of Law, a New Trial.'

"Upon a careful review of the Petition in the light of the petitions heretofore filed, hearing held, Orders made by this Court as well as the Superior Court, we can see nothing in the Petition of a meritorious nature.

"On March 4, 1969, this Court filed its Opinion and Order granting to the Defendant the right to file a motion for new trial, nunc pro tunc. This Order was made as a result of a Post Conviction Petition filed by the Defendant alleging previously that he had been improperly denied his right of appeal. After hearing and testimony taken the Order granting him the right to appeal was made. For reasons known only to the defendant, no action was taken by the defendant to perfect such appeal. We refer to our Opinion and Order of March 4, 1969, wherein we review the case from its inception. We see no merit to Defendant's allegations. Accordingly, we make ...

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