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Piano v. United States

argued: March 31, 1978.



Aldisert, Gibbons and Higginbotham, Circuit Judges.

Author: Aldisert


Aldisert, Circuit Judge.

The question for decision is whether a prisoner is entitled to a de novo sentencing proceeding before a judge entertaining a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255,*fn1 under circumstances in which the original sentencing judge has died and the petitioner has established that his sentence was imposed in violation of the rule of United States v. Tucker, 404 U.S. 443, 30 L. Ed. 2d 592, 92 S. Ct. 589 (1972). Tucker held that prior convictions obtained without the assistance of defense counsel as mandated by Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 9 L. Ed. 2d 799, 83 S. Ct. 792 (1963), could not be considered by the sentencing judge. The basis of that decision, also rendered in the context of a § 2255 motion, was Tucker's contention that his sentencing process had been tainted because the court considered prior felony convictions obtained in proceedings in which he was not represented by counsel.

In considering appellant Frank Del Piano's motion, the district court in the present action recognized that the infirmities of the original sentencing procedures had been correctly identified and properly analyzed in a magistrate's report to the court. Nevertheless, the magistrate's recommendation that a new hearing was mandated was specifically rejected, the court ruling instead that "a resentencing of petitioner is unnecessary since, after consideration and review of the entire record without regard to the juvenile adjudications, the Court finds that the original sentence would still be appropriate." (A-4). Because we determine that the district court erred and that a de novo sentencing is required, we reverse.


The underlying historical or narrative facts are not in dispute. As reported by the magistrate, Del Piano entered a plea of guilty to a charge of armed bank robbery in 1963 and was subsequently sentenced by Judge Harold K. Wood, now deceased, to terms amounting to twenty-five (25) years, to run consecutively to a term of imprisonment he was then serving in a state penitentiary. Prior to imposing sentence (separate consecutive terms of 5 years for conspiracy and 20 years for the actual bank robbery), Judge Wood was furnished a pre-sentence report prepared by the United States Probation Office in which six distinct juvenile adjudications of delinquency were recited. It is conceded that Del Piano was not represented by counsel at the juvenile proceedings, and that those proceedings are thus constitutionally invalid. See In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 18 L. Ed. 2d 527, 87 S. Ct. 1428 (1967).


It is settled that a federal trial judge is vested with wide discretion in imposing a sentence within the statutory limits prescribed for a given offense. Under ordinary circumstances, the exercise of that discretion is not subject to attack by review or collateral proceedings. It is critical, however, that this be a properly informed exercise, not one influenced by "misinformation of constitutional magnitude". United States v. Tucker, supra, 404 U.S. at 447. Upon proof that improper data were considered by the sentencing court, the sentencing process may be reexamined, the sentence vacated, and a new sentencing ordered. When this occurs, it is not the product of the sentencing court's discretion that is reviewed, i.e., the sentence, but the procedures inherent in the exercise of that discretion.

Thus, while paying fealty to the precepts that a federal trial judge has wide discretion in determining what sentence to impose, and that before making that determination "a judge may appropriately conduct an inquiry broad in scope, largely unlimited either as to the kind of information he may consider, or the source from which it may come", id. at 446, the Supreme Court specifically teaches that "to permit a conviction obtained in violation of Gideon v. Wainwright to be used against a person . . . to . . . enhance punishment for another offense . . . is to erode the principle of that case. Worse yet, since the defect in the prior conviction was denial of the right to counsel, the accused in effect suffers anew from the deprivation of that . . . right." Loper v. Beto, 405 U.S. 473, 481, 31 L. Ed. 2d 374, 92 S. Ct. 1014 (1972), quoting Burgett v. Texas, 389 U.S. 109, 115, 19 L. Ed. 2d 319, 88 S. Ct. 258 (1967). See United States ex rel. Fletcher v. Walters, 526 F.2d 359, 361 (3d Cir. 1975); United States v. Radowitz, 507 F.2d 109, 112 (3d Cir. 1974).

The government does not quarrel with either the choice or the interpretation of these controlling legal precepts. Rather, its argument is confined to the application of these precepts to the facts at hand.*fn2 It presents alternate arguments: first, there is no proof that the sentencing court actually considered the juvenile adjudications, and second, even if the sentencing court did consider them, the court conducting a collateral review could reconsider the record exclusive of the juvenile adjudications without the necessity of vacating the sentence and sentencing anew. We disagree with both contentions.


Whether Judge Wood considered the juvenile adjudications in his sentencing determination is a question of fact. In their treatment of this question, the magistrate expressly noted, and the district court noted by adoption of the magistrate's ...

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